Submitted by Vicki Pate
Nov. 27, 2003
Thanksgiving is approaching once again, and with it come visions of
children's plays with Indians and Pilgrims, complete with little Pilgrim
hats made of construction paper. The story told in these plays and learned
by public school students at every grade level is a simple one.
The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock late in 1620. The first winter was
harsh, but the colonists worked hard and applied themselves industriously to
their own survival. They had help from the local Indian tribes, who helped
them learn how to survive. The result was a plentiful harvest in fall 1621,
not to mention the first celebration of Thanksgiving.
It's a wonderful story. There's only one problem with it: It isn't true.
It contains elements of truth. For example, the first winter was harsh, and
the local Indian tribes did help the colonists learn how to survive, what to
plant and how to prepare the food. But the 1621 harvest was not bountiful.
In fact, famine haunted the fledgling colony.
When the colonists first landed, they signed something called the Mayflower
Compact. Most of us have heard this document praised as an early social
contract helping different people to live together. What most of us never
learned was that it was also an experiment in socialism.
The Mayflower Compact required that "all profits and benefits that are got
by trade, working, fishing or any other means" were placed in the common
stock of the colony. Further, it required that "all such persons as are of
this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel and all provisions out of
this common stock." People were required to put into the common stock
everything they could, and take out only what they needed.
William Bradford, governor of the colony at the time, wrote History of
Plymouth Plantation. In it, he wrote that "young men that are most able and
fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their
time and strength to work for other men's wives and children." Since "the
strong, or man of parts, had no more division of victuals and clothes than
he that was weak," the strong men simply refused to work, and the amount of
food produced was never adequate.
In fact, the colony went hungry for years as strong men refused to work
hard, and theft of crops still in the ground ran rampant. Bradford wrote
that the colony was riddled with "corruption and discontent." The crops were
small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became
The harvests of 1621 and 1622 were adequate enough so that "all had their
hungry bellies filled," but that did not last. Deaths from malnutrition
continued into the next year.
But in 1623, something changed. Bradford reported, "Instead of famine now
God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed to the rejoicing of
the hearts of many, for which they blessed God." By 1624, the colony was
producing so much food that it began exporting corn.
What caused this change?
After the poor harvest of 1622, the colony brainstormed for a way to raise
more corn and obtain a better crop. The solution, like the Thanksgiving
story told today, was simple. In 1623, Bradford "gave each household a
parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it
away as they saw fit."
The socialistic experiment that had failed them was abandoned and replaced
with capitalism. That turned the colonists away from failure and forward
into success and growth. And this move away from socialism, along with the
resulting prosperity, is what we truly celebrate today. It is easy to see
why I call Thanksgiving the first Libertarian holiday.
Thanksgiving, far from being the simple and uninspiring story of a group of
people learning how to farm, is actually a celebration of what has made
America itself great. It is the story of people working together by working
for themselves first, and in so doing, improving the standard of living for
everyone. These are the American ideas we hold dear.
As you sit down to your table laden with turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie,
remember the true story of Thanksgiving, and what it means to all.
Matthew A. Givens is a resident of Montgomery and former vice chairman of
the Libertarian Party of Alabama.
Strange, the 1st time it only took two years of Socialism to realize that freedom and the capitalist, free enterprise, system was the way to maximize the well being of the whole community. Given the energetic and generous nature of a happy and free people, all found their lives best that way. Too bad we have forgotten that lesson of Thanksgiving.