This Thanksgiving Don’t Forget to Thank Private Property -Alexander Cullen

As most spend this thanksgiving with family thankful for whichever blessing, whether it be the success of Clemson’s Football season or maybe that curve on that last exam, I doubt many will take a moment to be thankful for private property. Today our societies are so productive that a family of low to middle class income enjoys feasts that only the most powerful of men 500 years ago could have afforded to assemble. In part that is a product of a larger population with more specialization, as well as the development of agricultural tools which compliment that specialized efficiency. However, even with other factors considered, private property, or allowing individuals to buy own and sell goods, was foundational in getting you those four verities of pie you plan to enjoy over the holiday. Plus, private property is sort of responsible for Thanksgiving.

When many colonists left England for the “New World” they brought with them ambitious visions of new societies that could break away from European history and culture to live as they believed people ought to live. While the colonists may have thought otherwise, these settlements were essentially experiments. One such experiment was the colony at Plymouth. The pilgrims who had traveled on the Mayflower sought to establish a community where Common ownership would “foster communion” among the Pilgrims and allow them to more effectively produce goods for their investors back in England. The investors had requested that private property be limited and that instead everything exist as “common wealth” so that the colonists would be working to benefit everyone in addition to themselves.

The pilgrims who first arrived numbered at 101 in 1620 and around half of them would survive the colony’s first month.  More than three years later the population would barely peak over 150. However, the colony’s new governor, William Bradford, implemented a system of private property in 1623 which radically altered the viability of Plymouth. From Bradford’s own account this resulted in “great success.”

Prior to 1623, the Pilgrims had encountered the free rider problem. Members of the community were not secure in their right to own and sell what they produced, instead anything they worked to produce was susceptible to being taken from them for either their investors or fellow colony members usage. The result was a system where individuals, unsure that they’d actually receive the benefits, were hesitant to be as productive as they potentially could have been. Upon this reversal of property Bradford noted a visible alteration to Plymouth, “This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than 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.”

It was the Fall Celebration in November of 1623 that the Pilgrims celebrated what they’d refer to as a “Thanksgiving” after having far more success as a colony than the two years prior. While it’s likely the Holiday of Thanksgiving, first officially recognized by President Lincoln, would exist today had the pilgrims succeeded or failed, it wouldn’t be the Holiday we know today. And without the role private property rights has played in making our society much more productive, it’s unlikely they’d be as lavish either.

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