A lesson from the First Thanksgiving - Granite Grok

A lesson from the First Thanksgiving

the-first-thanksgiving Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1912 Weirs Times

Updates below.

I like reading John Stossel as often he proclaims a down to earth message with common sense appeal.  In addition, what he talks about is grounded in results rather then an ideological background.  When I saw his column, so apropo for today, it does need to be reviewed.

Why?  Allow me to inject a bit of what some might consider politics on a day given over for other-than-politics.  The lesson learned by the Pilgrims is one that we should be paying close attention to, as we are looking to select a new leader, just as the Pilgrims selected Bradford as their new leader. I see the Democratic candidates all running to socialistic tendancies more and more – think “it takes a village” on steroids.  Yet, given history’s results on “the common good” and the hatred that seems to be simmering on the Left for capitalism, sometimes we do need to pay attention to what history tells us of certain choices and actions, lest we repeat them over and over….

Every year around this time, schoolchildren are taught about that wonderful day when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared the fruits of the harvest. “Isn’t sharing wonderful?” say the teachers.

They miss the point.

Because of sharing, the first Thanksgiving in 1623 almost didn’t happen.

The failure of Soviet communism is only the latest demonstration that freedom and property rights, not sharing, are essential to prosperity. The earliest European settlers in America had a dramatic demonstration of that lesson, but few people today know it.

When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.

They nearly all starved.


When people can get the same return with a small amount of effort as with a large amount, most people will make little effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. Some ate rats, dogs, horses and cats. This went on for two years.

“So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented,” wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, “began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. … And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.”

The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.

“This had very good success,” Bradford wrote, “for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. … By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. … ”

Because of the change, the first Thanksgiving could be held in November 1623.

What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. But the problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.”

When action is divorced from consequences, no one is happy with the ultimate outcome. If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty and will not be refilled — a bad situation even for the earlier takers.

What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there’s a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.

Secure property rights are the key. When producers know that their future products are safe from confiscation, they will take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.

That’s the lost lesson of Thanksgiving.

And yet with this history lesson, Santayana’s aphorism still holds true – it is to our Country’s demise that many have not heeded the object lesson above concerning human nature as once again they feel that they are The Ones to successfully implement Socialism where none have ever succeeded before them.

(reposted from 11/22/07, 11/22/2009, 11/22/2012, 11/28/2013, 11/17/2014, 11/23/17, 11/28/18, – as we drift further towards the Obama / Progressive Collective, the more we need to know that it didn’t work for the Pilgrims, it didn’t work in all of the Communist / Fascist countries last century, and it isn’t working this century (e.g., Venezuela).   While many on the Right are looking for the next Reagan (without realizing they must be their own Reagan), the Left is constantly looking for the “right people” to implement socialism correctly – and DO keep looking at themselves).

Update: And now post-Obama, we have the Donald Trump era.  While he’s been at the helm for only 10 months, it is clear that he is moving us from the Obama Statist / Socialist path back to our origins – and the economy is responding.  Will it continue?  Dunno – only time will tell.  What is happening is that he and his Administration are working to move the Government from driving the economy to one more where WE determine our economy.  Let’s see if I think the same thing next year.

Update: And now, we’ve had a couple of years of the Trump era now and yes, the economy has responded to the lifting of regulations and taxes from it.  We’ve got more Americans back at work than ever before and we have an economy that is the envy of the world.  Is everything alright?  Certainly not – but let’s take this day to give thanks for what the Good Lord has given us.  It’s been a rough year here at Chez Murphy but along with the downs, there’s been the up’s as well. A roof over our heads, food in our bellies, clothes on our backs – the necessities of life have been provided.  TMEW and I have the Grandson legally and what a blessing he has been this past year! For all of the adversity we’ve faced, that spotlight, that beacon of ours, continues to shine brightly every time he smiles and giggles at us.

Update: And the gauzy white promises of this Democrat Presidential Campaign (2019/2020) that Government can give you EVERYTHING as long as you let it be in control of your life, the promises will be just as workable as the socialism that the Pilgrims started with – just with the disaster at a scale those folks could never imagine. As they try to “out Left” each other to the brink of full Socialism, they refuse to see its failure even here in America.  Time to gird our loins and support those that would have nothing to do with this!

While we do complain a lot here at the ‘Grok at how the culture degrades along with our politicians, I am thankful for what we have been given.  May we all be thankful to God for all of His blessings.