By Dean Kalahar
Not so long ago American’s celebrated Thanksgiving to rejoice at the bounty provided by their economic way of life. It was a time to reflect and admire what private property and the free market had accomplished in answering the scarcity question to meet the insatiable needs of the human condition. It was a holiday to remember the settlers of Jamestown and the Pilgrims for how they fundamentally formed America’s economic system.
In today’s America, the historic wealth creating and life saving principles called capitalism have been destroyed by a rapidly expanding state, driven by a utopian command cronyism model. Sadly, our New American economy is based on the same flawed collectivist idealism that the colonists first used upon settling our shores. A model that was also to blame for the “starving time’ in Jamestown and Plymouth.
For the sake of the Republic, it might be prudent to remember how capitalism was born and why Thanksgiving had meaning. The history of Jamestown and Plymouth offers the historical context. Let’s begin in Jamestown as described by Historians David Boaz and Ray Harvey.
In 1607, 105 men and boys, mostly indentured servants who held no private property and were to work for the “common store,” disembarked from three ships and established the first permanent settlement in America.
By 1609, there were 500 settlers, including women. And yet within six months fewer than 100 were still alive during what came to be known as "the starving time." Why? According to a governor of the colony, George Percy, most of the colonists died of famine, despite the “good and fruitful” soil, the abundant deer and turkey, and the “strawberries, raspberries and fruits unknown” growing wild.
And yet people were desperate. They ate dogs and cats, then rats and mice. They apparently ate their deceased neighbors. And some said that one man murdered and ate his pregnant wife. By the spring, they had given up. They abandoned the fort and boarded ships to return to England. But, miraculously, as they sailed out of Chesapeake Bay, they encountered three ships with new recruits, so they turned around and tried to make another go of it. The additional settlers and supplies kept them alive.
When a new governor, Thomas Dale, arrived a year after the starving time, he was shocked to find the settlers bowling in the streets instead of working. Dale's most important reform was to institute private property. He understood that men who don't benefit from their hard work tend not to work very hard. As such he allotted every man three acres of land and freed them to work for themselves.
Not many years later, in November of 1620, another group of 101 American settlers arrived on the Mayflower, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and settled in a place named Plymouth. The Pilgrims were not unaware of the early Jamestown disaster, the starvation, the disease, the famine; they were, however, unaware of what had caused it. Accordingly, they proceeded to make the identical mistake that the settlers of Jamestown had made, namely collective ownership of land. And the Pilgrims also paid dearly for their misguided economic choice. Within a few short months, half were dead.
Over the course of the next three years, 100 more settlers arrived from England to Plymouth, all of whom were barely able to feed themselves. As Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford detailed in his History of Plymouth Plantation, 1641.
Many [settlers] sold away their clothes and bed coverings [to the Indians]; others (so base were they) became servants of the Indians … and fetch them water for a capful of corn; others fell to plain stealing, both day and night, from the Indians…. In the end, they came to that misery that some starved to and died with cold and hunger. One in gathering shellfish was so weak as he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.
William Bradford would also solve “the ruin and dissolution of his colony,” and he would do it in the exact same way Sir Thomas Dale had saved Jamestown.
After much debate of things … [it was decided that the Pilgrims] 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, for present use. 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.
Bradford, like Dale, came to fully grasp how lack of property rights negates and destroys the work incentive. He went on to correctly identify the source of the “disastrous problem” as “that conceit of Plato’s,” who, in direct contrast to Aristotle, advocated collectivism and collective ownership of land, which history has repeatedly proven creates economic inefficiency and suffering. Bradford even wrote later that those who mistakenly believed that communal property could make people “happy and flourishing” imagined themselves “wiser than God.”
Private property and economic freedom saved the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies. A letter by Edward Winslow describing the first Thanksgiving, dated December 12, 1621, details the proof of how capitalism saved the colonists.
Our corn [wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, ...Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors... And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Another description by William Bradford offered this account of amazing economic bounty and thanksgiving.
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty… they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
Virginia historian Matthew Page Andrews wrote regarding Jamestown:
As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans—an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention.
The Jamestown and Plymouth colonies became a success, people from all over Europe flocked to the New World, and life saving capitalism was born in America.
Since we no longer understand history, nor follow histories leadership, there is no reason to celebrate a holiday that is based on the principles of free markets and the miracle of private property.
Freedom exercised through the natural rights of life, liberty, and happiness - promoted through an entrepreneurial free market economic system based on private property - saved us in the beginning years of our nation, and allowed America to raise the standard of living for the rest of the world. It is to those principles and history matched against what America has become that explains why Thanksgiving is no longer a part of America.
We used to give thanks to system that provided for all. Maybe this Thanksgiving we should be saying “no thanks” to a New American economic vision intent on providing suffering and misery to us all.