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Gary M. Galles - Contributor
Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.
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"Never again were the Pilgrims short of food"…
[Gary M. Galles] 11/25/04
Thanksgiving, Americans reflect on their blessings and hope
of togetherness and unity, with
the Pilgrims used as examples of peace, harmony, and thankfulness.
However, while the Pilgrims' 1623 "way of thanksgiving" represents
what we wish to infuse in Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony before
1623 was closer to a Thanksgiving host's worst fears--resentments
surface, harsh words are spoken, and people turn angry and unhappy
with one another.
unhappiness was caused by their system of common property (not
adopted, as often asserted, from
convictions, but required against their will by the colony's
sponsors). The fruits of each person's efforts went to the
community, and each received a share from the common wealth.
severe strains among the members, as Colony Governor William
young men...did repine that they should spend their time and
to work for other men's wives and children
without any recompense. The strong...had not more in division...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 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."
Bradford summarized the effects of their common property system:
this community of property (so far as it went) was found to
breed much confusion
and discontentment and retard much
employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort...all
being to have alike, and all to do alike...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."
How did the Pilgrims move from this dysfunctional system to
the situation we try to emulate in our family gatherings? In
the spring of 1623, they decided to let people produce for their
their victuals were spent...no supply was heard of, neither
knew they when
they might expect any. 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...the Governor (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 results were dramatic:
had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious,
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."
quite a change from their previous situation, where severe
whippings had been resorted to as an inducement to more
labor effort, with little success other than in creating discontent.
the Pilgrims' increased efforts in 1623, a summer drought
threatened their crops. Following their beliefs, they offered
contrition for their sins. Then the drought broke, which led
to the Thanksgiving we still try to emulate. And as historian
Russell Kirk reported, "never again were the Pilgrims short
It is appropriate
to remember the Pilgrims as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.
Though we have incomparably more than they did,
we can learn much from their "way of thanksgiving." But
we should also remember that our material blessings are the fruits
of America's system of private property rights, whose power for
peaceful and productive cooperation the Pilgrims began to prove
by experiment almost four centuries ago, because those rights,
and the freedoms and prosperity they entail, are under constant
assault today. tOR
2004 Gary M. Galles