Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgivingness

This is last year's Thanksgiving post. I thought it worthwhile to repost.

AMDG,

-J.

While Thanksgiving is a holiday quite dear to Americans, as well as being something rather uniquely American also, most Americans (particularly, but not exclusively, those educated at gummint schools) have only the dimmest idea of what the history of the day has been. So here are a few tidbits. (All emphases mine.)

A particularly apt place to start is George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving proclamation:

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 interpositions of His Providence which we experienced in the 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 onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord -- To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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

Since it was, of course, Abe Lincoln who made Thanksgiving the yearly holiday it is now, we ought groove mightily with what he wrote on the subj.:
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 unequalled 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, tranquillity 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.

A. Lincoln
Finally, it bears noting that most people have a very, er, abridged version of the Thanksgiving narrative. Usually i9t goes something like this: The Pilgrims' ship, The Mayflower, finally alighting on Plymouth Rock, the local tribes show up and feed then and they are grateful and have a feast.

[What people never hear or read about is how miserable a voyage it was. The trip was long, arduous and, frankly, nauseatingly stench-ridden. Once the ship had landed, fires were set throughout the ship to smoke out the stench of 102 people crammed in there for months on end with no plumbing facilities. Then it got worse.] The place was barren and desolate (even the indigenous types knew to give it a mighty wide berth) and during the first winter, half of the Pilgrims died of starvation, sickness or exposure.

Finally, Spring sprang and the local tribes showed the Pilgrims how to plant corn, fish for cod and trap beavers for fur. And pretty much this is where the story stops, and we all skip ahead to Pilgrims eating turkey. The fact is the Pilgrims were managing to scrape out a survival existence, but not being much more of a hit than that.

Here's the part you didn't know: The Pilgrims didn't actually have the coin needed to swing the cruise from Europe to Plymouth Rock. So, they made a contract with some investors in London (the system was called mercantilism) and agreed to pay them back with whatever their community could produce. Being a starry-eyed bunch of Neo-Utopians, they had agreed to produce things in common and everyone was given an equal share of the total.

Of course, they didn't ask me and were therefore were quite surprised -- much like certain benighted theologians of today would have been -- when this centralized system of collective production and allocation, frankly, er, sucked dead wombats. Gov. Bradford, desperate for a new system that would generate serious production, not only for survival but to cover their debts to the merchants in London, changed the scheme. He assigned individual parcels of land to each family to farm and control as they best saw fit.

About this whole matter, Bradford wrote:
The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God.

For this community [arrangement] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice.
Then came the changeover from common to individual property. Gov. Bradford wrote

This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was [harvested] than otherwise would have been.
By the late summer, the Pilgrims realized they had much more crops than could be eaten by their settlement. They set up a trading system whereby they exchanged goods with the local tribes. They experience such profits they were able to pay off the the merchants in London. They were so grateful to God for this turnabout in their fortune they held a feast of Thanksgiving.

Now you know the whole story of Thanksgiving.

Feel better?