Most children are taught that Thanksgiving celebrates the Pilgrims’ first harvest and their sharing it with Native Americans. However, this version of the story suffers from serious omissions.
For its first few years the Plymouth plantation organized farming on a communal basis; each person was expected to work as much as they could, and take from common resources only what they needed. With little individual incentive to produce, colonists refused to work in the fields and theft was common. In the History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, who served as Plymouth’s governor for more than 30 years, wrote that during the first years colonists rarely had enough food.
Within two years the common property of Plymouth was divided and each family received a plot of land. After the next harvest Bradford wrote, “instead of famine God gave them plenty.” In 1624 enough food was grown that colonists exported corn. Private property allowed farmers to keep or freely trade what they produced, creating a powerful incentive to grow more food. This relative abundance came about by allowing people to pursue their own ends and voluntarily exchange goods.
This story is not unique; private property, free trade and limited government are important for economic and cultural prosperity. We in the United States have much to be thankful for, but also must be alert to government encroachment of our liberties, lest we suffer as the Pilgrims initially did.
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