Americans learn in school that the Plymouth Colony celebrated its first Thanksgiving in 1621 to break bread and affirm peace with the Native Americans. Was this feast really the celebration of bounty that is so often described these days? After all, the Pilgrims had been getting closer and closer to eradication for some time, so much so that a single successful harvest was cause for a celebration that became legendary over the centuries. Rather than a symbol of success, the first Thanksgiving illustrates how close to failure the first settlers came. It would take a few years and a change in basic economic principles before the colonists had a true reason to give thanks.
Those who traveled on the Mayflower were a hardy lot, so why was setting up camp in the New World such a challenge? What students today do not learn is that the colony’s sponsors insisted that farming should be run like a socialist commune. This led to the same result socialism produces everywhere: starvation and death. When the communal system was ousted in 1623, Thanksgiving took on a new dimension for the Pilgrims.
A Historical Perspective
Governor William Bradford said in his records:
“The young men … did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes, etc … thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And the men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”
The effects were like something taken out of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Colonists started behaving in the way a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) policy might encourage – mooching and indulging in sloth, expecting others to do work for them. Predictably, the result was starvation and resentment.
Only after the governor instituted private property for personal gain in the colony during the spring of 1623 did things dramatically change for the better. He reported:
“This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability, whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
Members of the Plymouth Colony recognized that something extraordinary had happened. They had been saved by the miracle of capitalism and were eternally grateful but lacked the language to express their gratitude conceptually.
It was not until 1690 that John Locke gave us that language in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. There he formulated his theory of natural rights to life, liberty, and property, which was later echoed in the Declaration of Independence.
We can understand his theory in both religious and secular terms. The Christian interpretation is that the Creator has endowed the individual with certain unalienable rights that are encoded in human nature. To the degree we humans choose to live in accordance with this natural law, we are rewarded with great harvests.
If, however, we choose to violate human nature and live like Bernie Sanders may encourage, nature becomes a cruel punisher.
The Great Lesson
Sadly, liberty lovers waste an opportunity to use Thanksgiving as an annual reminder of the wonders of private property upon which America is founded. It contains all the elements of a great story: the pain and suffering of socialism, followed by the abundance of capitalism.
In this age of bottomless leftist ingratitude, Americans need to understand the moral foundation of Thanksgiving more than ever.
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