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Still Thankful for Private Property

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This story [2] is often told — but is worth telling yet again.  Here’s the conclusion:

After the Pilgrims had endured near-starvation for three winters, [Plymouth colony governor William] 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 owns perticuler, 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 waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave far better content.”

The women now went willingly into the field, carrying their young children on their backs. Those who previously claimed they were too old or ill to work embraced the idea of private property and enjoyed the fruits of their labor, eventually producing enough to trade their excess corn for furs and other desired commodities.

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.

“Any generall wante or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day,” Bradford writes in an entry from 1647, the last year covered by his History.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the Pilgrims’ good fortune was not a matter of luck. In 1623, they were responding to the same incentives that, almost four centuries later, have come to be regarded as necessary for a free and prosperous society.

(Hat tip to Jim Beley for the link to Caroline Baum’s rendition.)

Here’s a post from 2004 [3] on Thanksgiving.

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