Thanksgiving Day is undeniably a government established religious holiday. From its historic origin at Plymouth Colony to President Lincoln’s official declaration of “… the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
As you gather with family and friends this national day of Thanksgiving to give thanks to Almighty God for His blessings on America, 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.
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. The following year, the Pilgrims again failed to produce enough food to adequately sustain them.
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. (Source: email from Family First on November 25, 2009)
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In a more punctuated account, the editor of The Lighthouse made this drew this conclusion about the Puritans’ experience at Plymouth Colony: “Once families were allowed to keep the fruits of their labor, the food shortages vanished. In short, the Pilgrims learned that prosperity requires individual effort, and individual effort requires individual reward. And we are the beneficiaries of that lesson.”
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As important as that lesson is, more important is learning how to prosper under the free market laws of God over which He rules. This is not measured by dollars and cents but by the moral standards of truth, justice, mercy, charity, and faithfulness. Our actions towards others supply the funds for our eternal loss or gain.
The Madoff’s and Enron managers of the world are examples of making the wrong moral investments. They lose in both the free market of corporate finance regulated by government and in the free market of God.
Yet, all of us have reason to give God thanks for his unfailing practice of the same free market laws toward us. He seems always willing to forgive us of both our debts and our crimes as well as to bless our bountiful prosperity. In this, we expectantly hope for eternal returns.