Rights to Be Thankful For

October 31, 2015

 As we gather our families around the holiday table, we give thanks for many things. When we count our blessings this Thanksgiving, let’s not forget to be thankful for property rights. 

Few Americans realize that the first Thanksgiving would not have been possible if private ownership of property had not been introduced into Plymouth Colony. Originally, Plymouth was organized on a communal basis. When the Pilgrims first established Plymouth in 1621, the land was owned and farmed in common, with each family receiving "an equal share of food, no matter how much work they did."1 

"The results were disastrous. [Governor] William Bradford wrote, ‘much was stolen both by night and day.’ The same plan in Jamestown contributed to starvation . . . and the death of half the population." 1 

"So Bradford decreed that families should instead farm private lots. That quickly ended the suffering. Bradford wrote that people now ‘went willingly into the field.’ Soon, there was so much food that the Pilgrims and Indians could celebrate Thanksgiving."1 

There is "nothing like competition and self-interest to bring out the best in people . . . . Knowing that your property is really yours makes it easier to plant, grow, invest and prosper."1 

Bradford’s diaries chronicle the failure of the communal system, which encouraged waste and laziness and destroyed individual initiative. The bountiful harvest that saved the colonies and prompted them to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving was made possible by private enterprise— the right of individuals to own land and benefit from the work they do. 

Private property—as the Pilgrims discovered—connects effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. So successful was Governor Bradford’s experiment that he noted later, "any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day."2 

Noted economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek once said, "Private property is the most important guarantee of freedom."3 Though property rights and free enterprise have been eroded through the years by regulation and taxation, the discoveries of those early colonists have made it possible for America to prosper for hundreds of years. 

So when we slice into that turkey this Thanksgiving, we celebrate not only our families and the bounty of the harvest, but also the birth of freedom in America. 

1 Stossel, John. "The History of Thanksgiving: Thanks, Property Rights." Capitalism Magazine. 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 8 Oct. 2015. 

2 Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1952. 

3 Hayek, Friedrich August. The Road to Serfdom. New York: Routledge, 1944.

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