From Bloomberg’s Caroline Baum on the true roots of Thanksgiving, drawn from the memoirs of William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Bay Colony beginning in 1621:

One of the traditions the Pilgrims had brought with them from England was a practice known as ‘farming in common.’ Everything they produced was put into a common pool, and the harvest was rationed among them according to need. They had thought ‘that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing,’ Bradford recounts. They were wrong. ‘For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte,’ Bradford writes. Young, able-bodied men resented working for others without compensation. Incentives were lacking.

After the Pilgrims had endured near-starvation for three winters, Bradford decided to experiment when it came time to plant in the spring of 1623. He set aside a plot of land for each family, that ‘they should set corne every man for his owne particular, and in that regard trust to themselves.’ The results were nothing short of miraculous. Bradford writes: ‘This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other ways would have been by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave far better content…Given appropriate incentives, the Pilgrims produced and enjoyed a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1623 and set aside ‘a day of thanksgiving’ to thank God for their good fortune. [“Pilgrims’ Progress, or the Story of Thanksgiving”]

Or more properly they should have thanked the man who came up with the idea of property rights. For the proper reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving see Dr. Gary Hull’s article Thanksgiving: An American Celebration of the Creation of Wealth. [Hat Tip: Don Luskin]

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