UPDATE NOVEMBER 29! Historian Victor Davis Hanson adds “Some Random Politically-incorrect Reasons to Be Optimistic on Thanksgiving Day” —
“Americans are far more meritocratic than others, success far less predicated on birth, accent, parentage, or class. We are more optimistic, and do best when pressed (Consider a broke America in 1939, and a rich America in 1946 that defeated the Axis and sent billions to its allies in the UK and Russia.)Our demography is far more encouraging than Europe’s. We react to crises far more energetically; compare US troops in Afghanistan to their NATO counterparts; or ask who adapted more successfully in Iraq—the US Marines far from home, or Al Qaeda terrorists in their own backyard? Once the dust settles on this crisis, I wager the United States will be relatively stronger after than before the meltdown. One can do almost anything with a $13 trillion economy, a two-percent-plus growing population, and a stable political system; much harder with a shrinking work force that breaks apart along class lines and resentments. Even while pundits write weekly books about the ‘end’ of the United States, or at least ‘American decline,’ the United States will emerge relatively stronger for the ordeal.” Read Hanson’s optimistic reasons here. (Hat Tip to Power Line here)
UPDATE NOVEMBER 28! Our Thanksgiving Weekend post would not be complete without the thoughts of historian Victor Davis Hanson. Here is an extract from one of his “Ten Random, Politically-Incorrect Thoughts” published this week —
“The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy. This upcoming generation knows instead not to judge anyone by absolute standards (but not why so); to remember to say that its own Western culture is no different from, or indeed far worse than, the alternatives; that race, class, and gender are, well, important in some vague sense; that global warming is manmade and very soon will kill us all; that we must have hope and change of some undefined sort; that AIDs is no more a homosexual- than a heterosexual-prone disease; and that the following things and people for some reason must be bad, or at least must in public company be said to be bad (in no particular order): Wal-Mart, cowboys, the Vietnam War, oil companies, coal plants, nuclear power, George Bush, chemicals, leather, guns, states like Utah and Kansas, Sarah Palin, vans and SUVs.” Read Hanson’s nine other politically incorrect thoughts here.
Our Thanksgiving Day Has Roots in Very Trying Times
Today’s Thanksgiving celebration has deep roots in some very demanding moments of our national history.
Military historian James S. Robbins has told us about the “The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Thanksgiving of 1864” —
“In October 1864, . . . president [Lincoln] again decreed that the last Thursday of November be set aside to offer up prayers ‘for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.’ Shortly thereafter, on October 27, a citizen of New York City known first only by the initials GWB (belonging to noted editor George W. Blunt), used the occasion of the holiday to propose a great national endeavor. Blunt suggested that ‘something be done for the Army and Navy’ for Thanksgiving, ‘not only to aid them in keeping the day properly, but to show them they are remembered at home.’ He proposed to send the troops ‘poultry and pies, or puddings, all cooked, ready for use.’ He estimated it would take 50,000 turkeys and a like number of pies to feed the 220,000 men of the Army and Navy in Virginia then besieging Richmond. ‘This seems to be a big undertaking,’ he wrote, ‘but I do not see any difficulty in carrying it out.’ The food could be prepared and boxed up by those who could afford it, and shipped from New York a few days in advance, in time to be distributed the day before. If the idea has merit, he wrote, ‘I am ready to do my best with others to put it through.’
A committee was set up to organize the effort, their goal being that on Thanksgiving Day there would be no soldier or sailor in the eastern theater ‘who does not receive tangible evidence that those for whom he is periling his life remember him.’ They felt it was particularly important to reach men who had no families back home. Blunt served as the committee’s executive director, and the treasurer was Theodore Roosevelt, father of the future president (then six years old). ‘Will not all who feel that we have a country worth defending and preserving,’ the committee wrote in the Times, ‘do something to show those who are fighting our battles that they are remembered and honored?’ The appeal was reprinted in many papers and the proposal caught on immediately. Contributions began to come in from all over the country. Within three weeks, with little publicity and no direct solicitation, the committee had collected $50,000 (almost $600,000 in today’s dollars).”
Readers can get the details of this giant volunteer patriotic effort of 1864 here.
This week author Robbins gives us a more complicated yet equally stirring tale story in his “The Anti-Washington Cabal –Thanksgiving, 1777” when it was celebrated on December 18.
“The first national Thanksgiving was observed by Congressional decree on December 18, 1777. But this celebration was not tied to the tradition of the Pilgrims at Plymouth; it arose from the politics of the American Revolution, and in particular was the result of congressional intrigue against General George Washington.”
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . [T]he Battle of Saratoga, culminat[ed] at Bemis Heights on October 7. Burgoyne was decisively repulsed, due largely to the initiative of General Benedict Arnold. But because of an ongoing dispute with his commander, General Horatio Gates, and the fact that he was severely wounded and taken from the field, Arnold was denied proper credit for the victory. When Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, the laurels fell to Gates.
When news of the victory reached Congress, Gates’s friends and supporters, including John and Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee, took the opportunity to promote Gates’s career. Gates was made head of the War Board, which was to oversee the conduct of the war effort. He was awarded a congressional gold medal, the second ever awarded, the first having gone to Washington. And a declaration was passed on November 1 establishing December 18 as a national day “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.”
The declaration was seen as a slap at Washington.
. . . . . . . . . . .
For Washington, December 18 was a day of thanks, but mostly of work. He was busy preparing for the winter encampment. His men had only tents to shield themselves from the weather, and Washington’s General Orders for the day show his concern for their proper billeting at Valley Forge. He detailed the collection of tools; the size and arrangement of the wooden huts for the officers and men; and for purposes of morale, sponsored a contest: ‘as an encouragement to industry and art, the General promises to reward the party in each regiment, which finishes their hut in the quickest, and most workmanlike manner, with twelve dollars.’ True to his pledge to share in the hardship, Washington slept in his own tent until his troops were housed.
. . . . . . . . . . .
While Thanksgiving may have been intended by some as a denigration of Washington, others made it a celebration. The Reverend Israel Evans from New Hampshire, who had been at Saratoga, preached a Thanksgiving Day sermon to the troops headed for Valley Forge. He drew from Psalm 115: ‘Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.’ He recalled the recent victory in the north, and in particular Arnold, who was ‘as a thunderbolt on that day.’ Of Washington, he said, ‘Oh! Americans, give glory to God for such a faithful hero.’ Elsewhere, Virginia Congressman Benjamin Harrison V wrote to Robert Morris, a friend of Washington’s and financier of the Revolution, noting with distaste the scheming of some members of Congress against the hard-pressed General. ‘I know [Washington’s] Value & would not lose it,’ Harrison wrote. ‘If we do, America will repent it by the loss of her Liberty.’
. . . . . . . . . .
The Continental Congress continued the tradition of annual Thanksgiving decrees through 1784. And George Washington finally made the holiday his own on with a Presidential proclamation in 1789, making Thursday November 26 a day of “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’ before the Revolution, ‘manifold mercies’ during the war, and ‘the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed.’ On the appointed day, President Washington braved the cold, inclement weather to pray at the nearly empty St. Paul’s Church in New York, and then provided funds for ‘provisions and beer’ to prisoners confined for debt in the city jail.”
Here is Robbins’ entire story about Washington and Thanksgiving.
One Thanksgiving resolution we conservatives should all make is to see that these and many other authentic American narratives stay part of our national memory — not succumbing to the fashions of multiculturalism and its toxic variations, but rather insisting that our schools (as well as taking care that our own families) pass on our exceptional tradition to new and old Americans alike.
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