Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Day For Giving Thanks

     The national holiday of Thanksgiving was first suggested in 1789, by George Washington. It did not reach its lofty national status until the 1860s. But the orgins of Thanksgiving predate George Washington's recommendation by more than 150 years. The first Thanksgiving, as legend has it, was celebrated by the pilgrims who settled the New World around the dawn of the seventeenth century. They were thankful to God almighty for the blessings bestowed upon them in their new home, thus making Thanksgiving one of the only remaining national holidays with roots in the spiritual world. Even Atheists celebrate this national day of thanks, although I always wonder who it is they are thanking.
     Many myths about the first Thanksgiving persist, the most widely held one is that the pilgrims had such a bountiful harvest because of the farming skills taught to them by the local natives. Actually, even though the pilgrims received some valuable farming information from the natives, they weren't totally helpless and it wasn't the kindness of the native population that saved them from certain extinction in the New World.
     Governor Bradford originally set up the colony to be a co-op, where the harvest was shared equally among all the colonists. Not only was the harvest communal, but so were the houses and other structures, no matter who was responsible for their construction. Mr. Bradford quickly found, as everyone does who implements this type of system, that the work was not being accomplished. With no personal incentive to work hard and own the fruits of their own labor, even these puritanical and spiritual people succumbed to the sloth that is inherent in a socialist system. I recall an episode of the sitcom Taxi where the Reverend Jim, a 1960s burnout, talked about a commune he lived on. He said they farmed and raised animals and everyone did their own thing. When asked why it disintegrated, he said it turned out every one's thing was sitting around getting loaded. Reverend Jim's fictional commune and that of the first pilgrims didn't share a problem with drugs and alcohol, but did share human nature. And human nature teaches that if everyone is getting an equal share, even the more industrious will not put forth their best effort.
     Governor Bradford solved his problem by splitting up the land into plots over which each family had complete control, and benefited from the harvest of their land. This led to an over-abundance during the harvest, which they were able to share with the native people. They were also able to pay off, ahead of schedule, the overseas investors who sponsored their trip. They learned a valuable lesson about how working in one's own self-interest benefits the entire society. This is because there is more motivation to work hard when the individual is able to keep the fruits of their own labor.
     There are many things for which to be grateful on this day. Gratitude itself is the essence of a happy and well-lived life. If you find yourself in good health, be grateful that your health isn't poor. If you find yourself in poor health, be grateful for the opportunity to improve your condition. If you have enough money to pay your bills and be generous with others, be thankful for that blessing. If your paycheck runs out before your bills or you are unemployed, be thankful that you live a country where these conditions don't have to be permanent. No matter how dark the hour may seem, their is always some sliver of light for which to be thankful. And finally, be thankful for those pilgrims long ago who gave us the basis for the freest, most prosperous and exceptional nation in the history of the world.

Click here to watch my political song parodies.


  1. The Myth of Thanksgiving

    Every schoolchild in the U.S. has been taught that the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony invited the local Indians to a major harvest feast after surviving their first bitter year in New England. But the real history of Thanksgiving is a story of the murder of indigenous people and the theft of their land by European colonialists--and of the ruthless ways of capitalism.

    In mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American coast, delivering 102 Puritan exiles. The original Native people of this stretch of shoreline had already been killed off. In 1614 a British expedition had landed there. When they left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox behind. Three years of plague wiped out between 90 and 96 percent of the inhabitants of the coast, destroying most villages completely.

    The Puritans landed and built their colony called "the Plymouth Plantation" near the deserted ruins of the Indian village of Pawtuxet. They ate from abandoned cornfields grown wild. Only one Pawtuxet named Squanto had survived--he had spent the last years as a slave to the English and Spanish in Europe. Squanto spoke the colonists' language and taught them how to plant corn and how to catch fish until the first harvest. Squanto also helped the colonists negotiate a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, led by the chief Massasoit.

    These were very lucky breaks for the colonists. The first Virginia settlement had been wiped out before they could establish themselves. Thanks to the good will of the Wampanoag, the Puritans not only survived their first year but had an alliance with the Wampanoags that would give them almost two decades of peace.

    John Winthrop, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay colony considered this wave of illness and death to be a divine miracle. He wrote to a friend in England, "But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."

    The deadly impact of European diseases and the good will of the Wampanoag allowed the Puritans to survive their first year.
    In celebration of their good fortune, the colony's governor, William Bradford, declared a three-day feast of thanksgiving after that first harvest of 1621.

    1. It never ceases to amaze me how revisionist historians, like yourself, never miss an opportunity to impune this great nation, even if they have have to reach back before its founding. First of all, unwittingly exposing someone to a disease which leads to their death is not genocide. If it were, then the native Americans would also be quilty of it, since they exposed the Europeans to disease which lead to as many of their deaths as the natives who died. Secondly, you act as if the Europeans and later the people of the United States were the only ones who practiced slavery. The South American tribes and even the natives in North America both had slaves. To this day Africa is the only place in the world where slavery is still thriving. And let's not forget that it was the people of the United States of America who were the first ones to outlaw slavery.

  2. History is written by the victorious with their agenda. Thanks for sharing this. As people are basically only self-serving, communal living/sharing the labors "fairly" will only benefit the lowest producers.