Thanksgiving: Celebrating The Birth Of American Free Enterprise

Authored by Richard Ebeling via The Mises Institute,

This time of the year, whether in good economic times or bad, is when Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together. It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

Plymouth Colony Planned as Collectivist Utopia

In the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked the land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors.

Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts.

The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony.

Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

Collective Work Equaled Individual Resentment

As Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):

For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense.


The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice.


The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them.


And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could husbands brook it.

Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice had left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.

Private Property as Incentive to Industry

Realizing that another season like those that had just passed would mean the extinction of the entire community, the elders of the colony decided to try something radically different: the introduction of private property rights and the right of the individual families to keep the fruits of their own labor.

As Governor Bradford put it:

And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end . . .


This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then 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 a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The Plymouth Colony experienced a great bounty of food. Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but also they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement.

In Governor Bradford’s words:

By this time harvest was come, and 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. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.

Rejecting Collectivism for Individualism

Hard experience had taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. As Governor Bradford expressed it:

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; — that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

Was this realization that communism was incompatible with human nature and the prosperity of humanity to be despaired or be a cause for guilt? Not in Governor Bradford’s eyes. It was simply a matter of accepting that altruism and collectivism were inconsistent with the nature of man, and that human institutions should reflect the reality of man’s nature if he is to prosper. Said Governor Bradford:

Let none object this is man’s corruption, and nothing to the curse itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

The desire to “spread the wealth” and for government to plan and regulate people’s lives is as old as the utopian fantasy in Plato’s Republic. The Pilgrim Fathers tried and soon realized its bankruptcy and failure as a way for men to live together in society.

They, instead, accepted man as he is: hardworking, productive, and innovative when allowed the liberty to follow his own interests in improving his own circumstances and that of his family. And even more, out of his industry result the quantities of useful goods that enable men to trade to their mutual benefit.

Giving Thanks for the Triumph of Freedom

In the wilderness of the New World, the Plymouth Pilgrims had progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism. At a time of economic uncertainty and growing political paternalism, it is worthwhile recalling this beginning of the American experiment and experience with economic freedom.

This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. This year, when we, Americans sit around our dining table with family and friends, we should also remember that what we are really celebrating is the birth of free men and free enterprise in that New World of America.

The true meaning of Thanksgiving, in other words, is the triumph of Capitalism over the failure of Collectivism in all its forms.


New_Meat Wed, 11/22/2017 - 20:39 Permalink

I had a history teacher early-on who read Bradford's account.  We took a trip to Plimouth Plantation.Bet that account isn't used much these days.

roddy6667 MozartIII Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:12 Permalink

It's easy to have a successful economy when the land is free. All the settlers had to do was take it from Stone Age natives weakened by disease and alcohol who could not read or write or even understand the wheel. All that land and its timber and mineral wealth free for the taking, and cheap labor from European immigrants. Who could mess that up? Now that the free land is all gone along with the good jobs, and people have to get along with each other instead of moving further west, the system isn't working any more.

In reply to by MozartIII

MozartIII roddy6667 Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:54 Permalink

Your stupid as shit! The land has been gone for a long time. The market has been in control for over a hundred years. It still is! Jobs are determined by employers, not the government.  Show me where the government employes people whith out stealing from them?As a evil business owner, I employee people based on Profit & Loss..... If I can make money, I have employees......

In reply to by roddy6667

Memedada MozartIII Thu, 11/23/2017 - 03:12 Permalink

There is nothing to prevent the successful in an initially free market economy to use their success (acquired capital, wealth, money) to make that same market “controlled”. Adam Smith had no doubt that an unregulated market would result in monopolies and “conspiracy against the public”: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices [controlled markets - for the slow learner]… “ -          Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter VIII: p. 145 And there’s nothing to prevent that same people from leveraging their economic power into political power. A brief look into the 1800’s history of USA shows that process with clarity. The last straw of “we the people” was broken with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. The result is what we see today in USA (and most other Western countries): the super-capitalist/0,01% (owners of all capital of importance) have now total control of all other aspects of society too. Another result is the dumbed down US population – 200 years of capital domination have made sure that no-one is able to understand or formulate alternatives to capitalism (apart from the scaremongering about “socialism/communism” – terms that no-one/very few from corporate controlled propaganda-spheres can define/understand).The Mises Institute, like the Rand Corporation, Gatestone, Heritage Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute etc., consist of nothing but well-paid propagandists for the ownership class. The fools who fall for their propaganda are well-represented in the ZH-population.   

In reply to by MozartIII

TeamDepends Memedada Thu, 11/23/2017 - 09:09 Permalink

Once again, today's "ownership class" you speak of are NOT capitalist in nature.  They don't want free markets because that would mean competition, and they abhor competition.  The Federal Reserve Act you rightly speak of as being the last straw, has NOTHING to do capitalism.  But a central bank is one of the main goals of the Communist Manifesto.  Another is gaining control of a nation's education system, in order to dumb down a populace so they will accept socialism.  And "the goal of socialism is communism" as Mr. Lenin tells us.  Maybe you have a difficult time grasping the terms "socialism" and "communism", but we don't.  Nor is it difficult to see the utter failure which inevitably follows their implementation.  Explain how Bernie Sanders almost became POTUS.  There were almost enough dumbed down peons ready to vote him.  In your world this is due to "capitalists".  You call yourself a libertarian, but what you are is confused.

In reply to by Memedada

nmewn New_Meat Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:31 Permalink

You should feel good in the fact you had a history teacher and not a feelz indoctrination teacher. I had one of those, he taught us everything we could comprehend at that age, wrinkles, warts and the good stuff Bradfords first hand account of the way it really was ;-)

In reply to by New_Meat

Memedada New_Meat Thu, 11/23/2017 - 03:24 Permalink

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A better (written and researched) article on the subject (debunking the propaganda-piece from Mises) here.

In reply to by New_Meat

0hedgehog Wed, 11/22/2017 - 20:53 Permalink

Wait a minute......celebrating Thanksgiving must be politically incorrect somehow, right?Offends the Native Americans or the Turkish or something........ right?

roddy6667 Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:03 Permalink

Such words of wisdom from the Mises institute. We should select a country that uses the Mises' principles for their economy and copy what they do. That way we would be assured of the same success they had.I need some help here. Can somebody name a country that uses the Mises' system for their economy?

. . . _ _ _ . . . Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:17 Permalink

And how does this history lesson apply when the robots are doing all the work, the farms are automated, and everybody has every day off?Shake your heads if you like, but it is coming.The wealthy are no longer those who do the most work. Now it is the very wealthy who are the laziest.That system was adapted to suit their particular situation. What we need is a system which suits our current situation. Labels don't help.Nice story, but no longer applicable. All the farmers' kids moved to the city.

Sparehead . . . _ _ _ . . . Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:55 Permalink

You did write "What we need is a system which suits our current situation." It seems fair to me to point out society still works best when people are motivated to work. Sure, there is a lot less manual labor to be done, but there's still plenty of need for human workers. I'm currently more concerned with the number of people willing to get by on assistance as there's not much difference in lifestyle to starting out in a low end job.

In reply to by . . . _ _ _ . . .

. . . _ _ _ . . . Sparehead Wed, 11/22/2017 - 22:22 Permalink

That's not all I wrote, though.Eventually, in a not too distant future, everything will be automated. Combines have replaced farmers and their oxen, algos have replaced traders, pre-recorded messages have replaced telephonists, robots have replaced factory workers... and there is more to come. Extrapolate. I also wrote that it is coming, not that it has already been fully implemented. So what then?But why are you blaming the victims? If there are not enough jobs, some people will need assistance. If unemployment falls below six percent, inflation rises. There has to be unemployment. If that is the case, why piss on the unemployed? Safety nets are not socialistic, they are humanistic. People with nothing to lose are a threat to society.The difference you state is one of long-term thinking vs short-term, and that is a cultural thing, an entitlement thing. This attitude only exists in the so-called 'developed' world, and only among the middle to upper-classes. If there were any farmers left in the USA, you wouldn't need Mexicans to pick your oranges and your onions. The term 'entitlement' applies to those who do not want to work; it should apply to those who consider themselves too good for certain types of work. This applies to millenials, but not any less than it applies to their parents. False exceptionalism causes this.The problem with any American analysis is that America IS an exceptional place, not because it is better, because it is unique. The world no longer cares to move in its direction for its sole benefit......hence we will need something new. We should start planning for it now, with or without y'all.

In reply to by Sparehead

. . . _ _ _ . . . TheLastTrump Thu, 11/23/2017 - 01:26 Permalink

Agreed. I'm an optimist.The youth of today are some of the wisest and most connected ever. Some of them are woke, indeed.They are also some of the most naive and idealistic. Lotsa' data, no experience. Maybe that will work out in their favour, maybe they will repeat mistakes. Either way, it's their turn to do what we couldn't.My point is that they will have lots of time to do it. Boredom can be a great motivator.

In reply to by TheLastTrump

Cabreado Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:37 Permalink

Notice that what's really going on requires no "isms"...Notice that a vigorous protection of rule of law, in an attempt to fight off corruption and control, is the only way out of the mess.

BitchesBetterR… Wed, 11/22/2017 - 22:04 Permalink

(((It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.  The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.)))  Nowadays thanksgiving dine is nothing but to pig out to a heartburn, drink up, and gossiping who's making money, who is NOT, who's fucking who, who's getting fat, who's getting married & who's getting divorced...   Have a wonderful thanksgiving ZH folks!!!

BorraChoom Wed, 11/22/2017 - 22:56 Permalink

American Free Enterprise was destroyed by Corporate lobbyists and "Free Trade".Ronald Reagan. This is the man who set in motion the financial gang-raping of the middleclass. Unbelievably, a significant portion of Middle America still loves the man. Why? Is it some sort of Battered Wife Syndrome, the ongoing reality-clouding propaganda by Citizens United or is the conservative middleclass too embarrassed to admit that they were duped by Reaganomics?Ronald Reagan made many working class and rural voters proud to be Americans again, but meanwhile, behind the scenes, corporate lobbyists and Reagan's aides (who were really running the show) went about dismantling factories in places like central Pennsylvania and moving them overseas, sometimes -- literally -- in the dark of night.Open a food processing company in America and the US State Department, at taxpayers’ expense, will provide you with cheap and compliant refugee labor and others with worker visas (and eventually the R’s will cave and grant amnesty to additional migrants)! American taxpayers will educate their kids and supplement their wages with healthcare, welfare and food stamps etc. When citizens complain, get the do-gooders to call them racists and haters.  What a business model!

StephenHopkins Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:42 Permalink

The real history lesson on freedom came in the way of a storm. The Mayflower was blown off course and landed 200miles north of the proposed site for a new settlement. Because they landed on unclaimed land, former native Americans’ land that had died off due to exposure to European diseases earlier. That meant they weren’t beholden to the original English contract, and likewise free to form their own government. Stephen Hopkins had experience in Jamestown and warned the Pilgrims about life in an English colony.

The Pilgrims moved outside of English law and formed their own government with the Mayflower Compact. They were however loyal to the idea of having an English king but on their own terms.

It’s the source of yankee pride, the spirit of independence in Boston, and self-reliant character New Englanders are known to be.

They omit this in history books.

dsty Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:52 Permalink

You really appreciate a good meal after starving for a while.Maybe time for a little healthy correction.It is about thankfulness weather you win or lose.Dont hang your hat on your cash. 

FreeEarCandy Thu, 11/23/2017 - 01:21 Permalink

And we are about at the end of the monopoly game. When you sit down and eat TG dinner ask who payed for the turkey. If you brought the sides then I would suggest your TG dinner is a collective effort.