Like so many aspects of Western Civilization, Thanksgiving is being hijacked by liberal multiculturalists intent on turning it into a secular celebration divorced from the spiritual ties that bind the 17th century colonists to 21st century Americans.
But the real history of Thanksgiving is far less secular and much less politically correct than the Left would have us think. It is characterized by references to God, the freedoms he gives us through nature, and the western traditions Americans from all walks of life have defended and espoused.
When the Plymouth colony held a day of Thanksgiving in autumn 1621, they did so believing they had survived the winter of 1620-1621 by God’s providence alone. The cold winds of winter had carried sickness that took its toil on the Pilgrims and those who survived were grateful to God for the fact.
The second Thanksgiving feast, held in the summer of 1623, was a celebration of the benefits the Pilgrims were then enjoying as a result of privatizing their colony according to the laws of nature.
When Plymouth colony was first founded, under the Governorship of John Carver, all land was held in common (think “socialism”). This experiment nearly marked the end of the colony, as land was divided equally among all the colonists and the labor necessary to improve and maintain it was expected from everyone without their work being rewarded in return.
This situation necessarily bred discontent and poverty. Said Plymouth leader William Bradford: “Young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did [regret] that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.”
So when Carver died in 1623 and Bradford ascended to the office of Governor, all land was privatized and the fortunes of the colony drastically changed: they literally went from a condition of quasi-starvation and deprivation to one of plenty. Said Governor Bradford: “This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”
In other words, through privatization the Pilgrims went from a condition of want to a condition of plenty.
After witnessing this change of fortunes, Bradford pointed out that those who had “[taken] away property” and set up the colony as a commune at the start did so by running counter to the laws of nature and thereby thinking themselves “wiser than God.”
Long after Plymouth colony held these early examples of Thanksgiving, the habit of thanking God for his benevolence and protection continued.
In December 1777, during the American Revolution, colonies across the nation held a day of Thanksgiving to God to “[commemorate] the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.” On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation of “National Thanksgiving” in which he “[recommended] to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”
In 1798 John Adams, the second President of the United States, made similar proclamations in which he called the American people to demonstrate “fervent thanksgiving to the Bestower of Every Good Gift.” A year later he issued another such proclamation in which he called Americans to a “due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him.”
After the United States defeated the British in the War of 1812, President James Madison issued a proclamation in which he called for “a day… to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace.”
From Madison’s presidency onward, Thanksgiving continued as a traditional holiday but not a fixed, national one. And from President Abraham Lincoln onward, every subsequent U.S. President declared a “Thanksgiving observance” on the fourth Thursday in November.
When Thanksgiving became an official, national holiday in 1941 it retained its focus on God, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the rich fruits of Western Civilization. Perhaps this was clearest in President Ronald Reagan’s first Thanksgiving message in November 1981, when he said the “unequaled freedom enjoyed by [American] citizens has provided a harvest of plenty to this nation throughout its history.” He then called Americans to “recommit [themselves] to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation.”
Even this cursory glance at the history of Thanksgiving proves that any attempt to reduce it to a secular celebration is a bogus attempt to deny the God-centered focus of this particular holiday. It is also a ploy to downplay the bounty of freedoms and rights that flow to us by birth and are protected by the traditions and cultural norms of Western Civilization.
We at HUMAN EVENTS wish all our readers a happy and politically incorrect Thanksgiving as we, with you, thank God for our great country, our numerous freedoms, and the richness of the civilization of which we’re a part.
Cartoon by Brett Noel.