Blessings of Private property.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


At Thanksgiving, Americans reflect on their many blessings. They also hope their family gatherings will be uplifting times of togetherness and unity. It is as an example of that hope for peace, harmony, and thankfulness that the Pilgrims are discussed.

While the Pilgrims' 1623 "way of thanksgiving" may be a good example of the feelings we wish to infuse in our modern Thanksgivings, parts of life at Plymouth Colony before that time were closer to a Thanksgiving host's worst fears - resentments surface, harsh words are spoken, and people end up angry and unhappy with one another.

The Pilgrim's unhappiness was caused by their system of common property (not adopted, as often claimed, from their religious convictions, but required against their will by the Colony's sponsors). The fruits of everyone's efforts went to the community, and each received a share from the common wealth. This caused severe strains among their members, as Colony Gov. William Bradford recorded:

" ... [T]he young men ... did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong ... had not more in division ... than 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 labors and victuals, clothes, etc ... thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And the 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 many husbands well brook it."

Bradford summarized the effects of their common property system:

"For this community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontentment and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort ... all being to have alike, and all to do alike ... if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them."

How did the Pilgrims move from this dysfunctional system to the situation we try to emulate in our family gatherings? In the spring of 1623, they decided to allow people to produce for their own benefit:

"All their victuals were spent . …