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EDITORIAL: Giving thanks as we slowly embrace a return to normalcy

For the first time in two years, Thanksgiving has a sense of normalcy to it. The pandemic continues, but the risks — thanks to the miracle of vaccines — seem far more manageable. That alone is reason to give thanks as we gather with family and friends.

Our modern gladiators will chase a pigskin down the field today in Detroit, Dallas and New Orleans, providing an ample distraction for many. Still others will enjoy their yearly feast, loosen their belts and enjoy time with loved ones while reaching out to hear the voices of those who couldn’t be there. Through it all, we can take some solace in the knowledge that the legacy of Thanksgiving is steeped in hardship and resilience, much like the past 20 months.

The Pilgrims’ first winter in the New World had been a harsh one. The wheat they had brought with them to plant would not grow in the rocky New England soil. Nearly half the colonists died.

In his “History of Plymouth Plantation,” the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry because they refused to work in the fields, preferring to steal.

Although in the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622 “all had their hungry bellies filled,” that relief was short-lived, and deaths from illness because of malnutrition continued.

Then, Richard J. Marbury wrote in a November 1985 article in The Free Market, “something changed.” By harvest time, 1623, Gov. Bradford was reporting, “Instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

What on earth had transpired? In 1623, Gov. Bradford simply “gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit.” Previously, the Mayflower Compact had required that a person was to put into the common stock all he could and take out only what he needed — a concept so attractive on its surface that it would be adopted as the equally disastrous ruling philosophy for all of Eastern Europe some 300 years later.

Yes, America is a bounteous land — even during our current trials. But the source of that bounty is the discovery made by the Pilgrims in 1623, that when individuals are allowed to hold their own land, to eat what they raise and keep the profits from any surplus they sell, hard work is rewarded and thus encouraged, and the community enjoys prosperity and plenty.

And so it is that on this Thanksgiving Day we ask God’s continued blessing on America, the envy of mankind, the land of the free.

— A version of this editorial first appeared on this page in 1999.

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