As Sappy an Appreciation of Thanksgiving That Will Ever be Offered from a Grateful if a Bit Loopy American Citizen
Like most history, the American holiday of Thanksgiving has a whole catalog of competing theories, each with valid evidence driven data, as to its political and religious origins, what it actually celebrates, and its relationship with ethnic genocide of Native Americans.
Even where, when, and for what reason it is a holiday is popularly mythologized to fit the pre-determined ideological narratives of whomever is forwarding whatever.
In fact, it was not a national holiday initiated by Europeans pilgrims. It first became a national holiday celebrated tomorrow during the U.S. civil war in 1863—200 years later.
And today, it is a phenomena mostly associated with encouraging consumer spending–the starting day for its more jet fuelled, seemingly endlessly hyped sister holiday of enforced Capitalist excess, guilt tripping the masses into spending into debt—Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving is a national shopping orgy, the busiest consumer purchasing day of the year.
That said, for most everyone, in reality it is a day for Americans to relax and do whatever they coose with whomever they choose to share that with. It is a time to fraternize with loved ones, eat in excess, watch excessively promoted sporting contests where extra large people beat each other up as the modern equivalent of Roman gladiators, and celebrate the too often unrecognized good fortunes Americans have been bequeathed in abundance.
We really don’t think about that whole uncomfortable matter of modern histories most successful ethnic genocide, where about 95% of the Native American population was exterminated as Europeans took control of North America.
And really, no ones history is not marked with egregious behavior.
I, for one, feel lucky and proud to be an American, and give thanks for that, despite my countries numerous faults, challenges, and wholesale mistakes. Mainly because I can bleat as loudly and often and uninformed and randomly as I choose in objection, have the political rights and protection to not be shot doing so, and actually have an effect on policy. I could only wish such a system on the rest of the planet.
The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia. Samuel Adams drafted the final version:
“ FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost. And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”
George Washington, who led the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.
Then on September 24, 1789, the first House of Representatives voted to recommend the First Amendment of the newly drafted Constitution to the states for ratification. The next day, a New Jersey Congressman proposed that the House and Senate jointly request of President Washington to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for “the many signal favors of Almighty God”.
The fellow from Jersey said that he “could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”
In the first year that there was an American President in 1789, after we ousted our Imperial master, some guy named George in London, who as Imperialists go, wasn’t all that bad a guy, George Washington created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interposition of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”–George Washington.
George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by the third president, Thomas Jefferson, but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814 after the War of 1812 when the British got uppity and sacked Washington D.C., burning down the White House. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815.
However none of these holidays were celebrated for the bounty of a fall agricultural harvest, or were they held this time of year. They were more connected to religious and political celebrations or commemorations.
It wasn’t until the middle of the civil war which split the countries and caused horrific suffering and uncountable dead and wounded in the mid 19th century that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.
That document reads: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.” Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.
It has only been since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually as a national holiday in the United States.
I suspect that historical narrative will be far from the minds focused later today on televised football, and the stomachs filled to excess with the extraordinary bounty of not just food, but clothing, shelter from the elements, a durable absence of violence as a means of disputes over public policy, and endless opportunity accessible to every citizen regardless of how much money, guns, or political power one possesses. These taken for granted luxuries remain elusive to and the objective of far too much of the planet as the remarkable American political experiment continues, it’s latter chapters far from being written.