Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"A Day of Public Thanksgiving to God"

Nothing better illustrates the polarization we see in society today than how the respective political factions commemorate our most sacred national holidays and festivities.

At this morning's Wall Street Journal, Ira Stoll wrote of the founders of our nation, and about the historical personages like John Adams who recognized the blazing moral goodness of this country's founding. America's early elites raised their arms in thanks to a divine providence that blessed this land:

When was the first Thanksgiving? Most of us think of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. But if the question is about the first national Thanksgiving holiday, the answer is that the tradition began at a lesser-known moment in 1777 in York, Pa.

In July 1776, the American colonists declared independence from Britain. The months that followed were so bleak that there was not much to give thanks for. The Journals of the Continental Congress record no Thanksgiving in that year, only two days of "solemn fasting" and prayer.

For much of 1777, the situation was not much better. British troops controlled New York City. The Americans lost the strategic stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, to the British in July. In Delaware, on Sept. 11, troops led by Gen. George Washington lost the Battle of Brandywine, in which 200 Americans were killed, 500 wounded and 400 captured. In Pennsylvania, early in the morning of Sept. 21, another 300 American soldiers were killed or wounded and 100 captured in a British surprise attack that became known as the Paoli Massacre.

Philadelphia, America's largest city, fell on Sept. 26. Congress, which had been meeting there, fled briefly to Lancaster, Pa., and then to York, a hundred miles west of Philadelphia. One delegate to Congress, John Adams of Massachusetts, wrote in his diary, "The prospect is chilling, on every Side: Gloomy, dark, melancholy, and dispiriting."

His cousin, Samuel Adams, gave the other delegates -- their number had dwindled to a mere 20 from the 56 who had signed the Declaration of Independence -- a talk of encouragement. He predicted, "Good tidings will soon arrive. We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection."

He turned out to have been correct, at least about the good tidings. On Oct. 31, a messenger arrived with news of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga. The American general, Horatio Gates, had accepted the surrender of 5,800 British soldiers, and with them 27 pieces of artillery and thousands of pieces of small arms and ammunition.

Saratoga turned the tide of the war -- news of the victory was decisive in bringing France into a full alliance with America. Congress responded to the event by appointing a committee of three that included Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and Daniel Roberdeau of Pennsylvania, to draft a report and resolution. The report, adopted Nov. 1, declared Thursday, Dec. 18, as "a day of Thanksgiving" to God, so that "with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor."

It was the first of many Thanksgivings ordered up by Samuel Adams. Though the holidays were almost always in November or December, the exact dates varied. (Congress didn't fix Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November until 1941.)

In 1778, a Thanksgiving resolution drafted by Adams was approved by Congress on Nov. 3, setting aside Wednesday, Dec. 30, as a day of public thanksgiving and praise, "It having pleased Almighty God through the Course of the present year, to bestow great and manifold Mercies on the People of these United States."

After the Revolution, Adams, who was eventually elected governor of Massachusetts, maintained the practice of declaring these holidays. In October of 1795, the 73-year-old governor proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 19, as "a day of Public Thanksgiving to God," recommending that prayer be offered that God "would graciously be pleased to put an end to all Tyranny and Usurpation, that the People who are under the Yoke of Oppression, may be made free; and that the Nations who are contending for freedom may still be secured by His Almighty Aid."

A year later, Gov. Adams offered a similar Thanksgiving proclamation, declaring Thursday, Dec. 15, 1796, as "a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Praise to Our Divine Benefactor." He recommended "earnest Supplication to God" that "every Nation and Society of Men may be inspired with the knowledge and feeling of their natural and just rights" and "That Tyranny and Usurpation may everywhere come to an end."
Compare this to Karl Jacoby, in his essay at the Los Angeles Times, "Which Thanksgiving?"

Jacoby, an associate professor of history at Brown University, can't miss the opportunity to remind us of America's history of oppression, in this case, against Massasoit and the Wampanoags of Plymouth, who (
according to tradition) shared a genuinely multicultural feast of thanks with some of the original settlers of North America:

About 50 years after Massasoit and his fellow Wampanoags enjoyed their harvest meal at Plymouth, the Colonists' seizures of Wampanoag land would precipitate a vicious war between Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoags, now led by Massasoit's son, Metacom.

Most of the other peoples in New England at first tried to avoid the conflict between the onetime participants in the "first Thanksgiving." But the confrontation soon engulfed the entire region, pitting the New England Colonies against a fragile alliance of Wampanoags, Narragansetts, Nipmucs and other Native American groups. Although these allies succeeded in killing hundreds of Colonists and burning British settlements up to the very fringes of Boston itself, the losses suffered by New England's indigenous peoples were even more devastating. Thousands died over the two years of the war, and many of those captured were sold into slavery in the British West Indies, including Metacom's wife and 9-year-old son.
Perhaps multi-culti academics will never cease reminding us that America is a historical abomination, built on Native American genocide, slavery, imperialism, racism, and untold more atrocities of the founding crisis.

In the meanwhile, most American families will sit down tomorrow and enjoy a feast of thanks for the blessings they have enjoyed as citizens of America, as imperfect as that national union may be.

14 comments:

Publius said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you as well

Donald Douglas said...

You're welcome, Publius!

Libby said...

happy thanksgiving, donald, to you & your family!!

brenda cox giguere said...

Warm Thanksgiving wishes to you and your loved ones.

be well,
brenda giguere

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Libby!

Donald Douglas said...

The best to you and yours, Brenda!

Thanks for visiting and commenting!

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Nice post for Thanksgiving!

Now go have some turkey!

Donald Douglas said...

Actually, Wordsmith, that's my pre-Thanksgiving post!

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving.

I am interested in adding you to my blog roll if you are willing to do the same. Let me know.

Christopher Hamilton
The Right Opinion, for the Right Wing

Philippe Ohlund said...

Have a great Thanksgiving, and eat lots of turkeys, Donald!

It was very interesting to read your great post concerning the background to the Thanksgiving holiday.

I had no idea of the history behind the Thanksgiving holiday. :-)

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Philippe!

Philippe Ohlund said...

You're welcome, Donald! :-)

Bob said...

Happy Thanksgiving, and God Bless America!

Donald Douglas said...

Thank you, Bob!