Paraphrased from the article by Gary Palmer, President of the Alabama Policy Institute.

On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans will gather with their families and friends to celebrate a uniquely American holiday, a day of thanksgiving, a day devoted to remembering their blessings.

But there is more to the story then you might have been taught.

First of all, the Pilgrims were not the first to declare a day of thanksgiving in America. In 1619, a year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, a group of English colonists set aside a day to give thanks for their safe voyage and arrival in Virginia. As was typical religious custom of that time, there was no feast on that day of thanksgiving. The festival of eating and drinking which the Pilgrims celebrated with their Indian neighbors occurred in 1621 and was a substantial departure from the usual custom of fasting and praying on days of thanksgiving.

It is generally known that the Pilgrims suffered terribly through their first winter in America with about half of their members dying from sickness, starvation or exposure. Even though Squanto and other friendly Indians taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and helped them with hunting, trapping and fishing, the harvest of their crops had yielded barely enough to support the colony. In the fall of 1621, although things were still very tough, they were thankful for what they had and declared a three-day feast, which they shared with their Indian friends who contributed deer and wild fowl.

That is about the extent of what most people know about that first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. The following year, the Pilgrims again failed to produce enough food to adequately sustain them. People generally don’t realize the reason the productivity was so low was due to the practice of socialism.

William Bradford, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, recorded that the colonists struggled because they refused to work in the fields. After that first winter, Bradford assigned a plot of land to each of the surviving families and “… all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” which they produced were to be deposited into a common storehouse and that “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.” This meant that each member of the community was entitled to take what they needed regardless of how much or how little they contributed.

As Governor Bradford recorded in his journal, this effort to spread the wealth around the Pilgrim community “… was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.” In other words, there was no incentive for people to work any harder than necessary.

After the dismal harvest of 1622, Governor Bradford recorded in his journal that “… they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop.” As a result, Bradford and the Plymouth elders scrapped socialism and adopted a free market plan that allowed the colonists to own their land and the means of production and to keep what they produced to feed themselves or for trading. The harvest of 1623 proved that such market incentives work. Bradford wrote, “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 other means the Governor or any other could use ….”

Bradford acknowledged, “… instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many.” Socialism in Plymouth Colony was a complete and tragic failure. After the colony implemented a free market system, Bradford wrote that from that point “… any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” In fact, the harvest of 1624 was so plentiful that colonists were able to start exporting corn to England.

As you gather with family and friends this national day of Thanksgiving to give thanks, you should also give thanks for Governor Bradford and the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony. They established the spiritual foundations for our nation and, after a miserable failure with a socialist system; they wisely laid the free market foundations, which ensured our prosperity as well.

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