It wasn’t what many government school teachers claim.
It wasn’t established because the Pilgrims wanted to “thank” the natives for help. Sure, the Pilgrims ended up getting along with some of the natives, and got tips from them, but that wasn’t why they started Thanksgiving. In fact, it takes very little time to find out why the Pilgrims started the holiday. Governor William Bradford told us in his own words.
The Pilgrims started Thanksgiving because they were thankful to God for helping them turn away from collectivism -- the system that almost wiped them out -- and to embrace private property and free enterprise.
Not many people learn this in government-run schools. In fact, a month ago, I was in a room with two teachers who didn’t know this, one of whom tried to push the classic canard that “real communism” has never been tried, the other of whom held firmly to her self-made fantasy that “it was the weather” that saved the Pilgrims.
It wasn’t “the weather”, and communism has been tried, over and over, always leading to disaster.
In fact, even before Marx wrote his “Communist Manifesto,” the collectivist scheme had been tried by the governing body of Pilgrims in 1620, and it led to starvation, death, misery, anger, and the near destruction of Plymouth Plantation.
Here’s the backstory.
From the 16th through the 17th Centuries, England was in turmoil. The Protestant Reformation and creation of the Anglican Church had seen a profound split by the United Kingdom from Roman Catholicism, and many battles occurred between Catholics and Protestants for control.
Within that struggle, there were other sectarian conflicts. The Puritans were Calvinists, who didn’t think the Anglican Church was “pure enough”, and so some “Puritans” fled the strife in England to live in the free-market, free-religion nation of Holland, which had recently won its independence from Spain.
For over ten years, the Pilgrims enjoyed the fruits of its free trade system. They had ample opportunities to work and prosper, but many of them did not like the fact that their children were becoming, in their eyes, “too Dutch” and straying away from the strict Calvinist lifestyle. So they decided to resettle in America.
And here comes the first lesson in economics we can learn from the voyage.
It wasn’t as if these Pilgrims could simply shell out enough cash to hire two ships and buy provisions to sail west.
Instead – thanks to the fact that they were in the bustling laissez faire nation of Holland – they were able to secure investors. Indeed, the only reason Plymouth Plantation was established was because a group of Dutch “capitalists” had enough expendable surplus to see the Pilgrim effort as a worthy investment and sponsor the trip, asking, in exchange, for portions of the furs and valuables the Pilgrims could send back.
Sadly, the Pilgrims ran into trouble of their own making. Not only was the second ship, Speedwell, unseaworthy and left behind, the Pilgrims originally planned to sail to Virginia, but missed their target.
Worst of all, they established a political-economic system of command-and-control collectivism, whereby no one was allowed to own and control his own property.
And this is where the big lesson was learned. This is where Thanksgiving has its roots.
In fact, despite help from natives, the communist system Governor William Bradford oversaw led to terrible internal conflict, resentment, sloth, and poor harvests. Starvation for many resulted.
Here is William Bradford, in his own words, describing their attempt to establish the “Platonic Ideal” by prohibiting private property and mandating communal lives -- and describing the horrible results:
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.
Bradford goes on to note:
For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them.
And for the feminists out there, here’s what collectivism brought:
And for 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. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.
And that course was the allowance of private property and trade, which led to vast riches and surplus, happiness, and prosperity. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s Bradford:
So they 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, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. 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.
The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of God helping the Pilgrims find a path away from tyranny, oppression, and starvation.
Finding a path away from collectivism.
Thanksgiving came about because of the surplus the free market system allowed the settlers to achieve.
It is about freedom.
Please remember, and spread the word.