SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Real First Thanksgiving

All of us remember the stories about Thanksgiving from our earliest school years--how difficult conditions were for the Pilgrims, how grateful they were to have survived the harsh conditions of New England, and how thankful they were to their Indian neighbors for sharing food with them. They sat down together for a celebratory feast, and gave thanks to God on this happy occasion.

This was the first Thanksgiving—or was it?

The Daughters of the American Revolution, and other groups interested in “truth in history,” have been trying for decades to persuade the American educational system to tell the true story of the first Thanksgiving, but to no avail.

In fact, the festive meal of the Pilgrims was a lovely thing, but it was not the first Thanksgiving. It was a harvest festival, a meal much like those that had been a part of harvest ceremonies from mankind's earliest times. These festivals celebrated the change of seasons, and the gathering of enough to sustain them through the fruitless time of winter. They were held everywhere in the world that experienced seasons of low productivity. These festivals had then, and continue to have today, a deeply important place in human society.

But on this momentous occasion, on this particular day of celebration, I would like to share with you the story of the REAL first Thanksgiving in the United States.

It all started in New York, on October 3rd, 1789. . . But wait; it’s better to let the man who started it all tell you about it in his own words:

“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 favour; 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 PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and 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 TWENTY-SIXTH 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 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 favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

“And also, that we may then united 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 publick 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 shewn kindness unto us; and to bless them with good governments, 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, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.”


(Signed)

G. Washington


So you see, Thanksgiving—the one we celebrate today—was created in gratitude for the Constitution of the United States of America.

A “constitution” is a document which describes the relationship between an organization and its membership, and the Constitution of the United States was, and remains, the most breathtakingly sophisticated description of the proper relationship between a government and free men that has ever existed.

Please note in particular some of the other things which our first President thought worthy of gratitude: “. . .the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have (since) enjoyed. . .” “. . .the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of government. . .” “. . . the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed. . .” ”the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge. . .” “to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws. . .” ". . . the increase of science among (them and) us. . ." and “. . . to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

Fellow Americans—and, in fact, ALL of us who are citizens of the Civilized World--these gratitudes are indeed worthy of our deepest and most sincere Thanksgiving. The Constitution of the United States represented the highest level of applied reason of the Age of Enlightenment; it was the end-product of an ancient line of philosophical thought beginning with Aristotle, salvaged for us by the great Muslim Aristotelian Commentator, philosopher, judge, and physician Ibn Rushd, then spread throughout Italy and the rest of Europe by his near contemporary Thomas Aquinas, then to the Enlightenment English philosopher John Locke, and finally to the Founders of our country, who created a nation "from scratch" based on deliberately chosen philosophic principles.

We are today the fortunate beneficiaries of this long line of intellectual thought; it is the Founders who illuminated for us, as had never been done before, the nature and meaning of “rights,” and laid them out, in writing, in a way that could not be hidden away from us. We experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a manner never before seen in human history.

Please look carefully at the last, but most assuredly not the least, of the things George Washington considered worthy of our gratitude: “. . .to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity. . .”

George Washington, and others who had inherited the shining light of reason from his predecessors, recognized that life on this earth, and the material riches required to support and celebrate it, were blessings, not sins.

Light in the darkness, heat in the cold of winter, plenty during the time where nothing grows, and the energy to enjoy life during the season of emptiness, are all gifts of reason.

I would like to suggest that we all--no matter where on this earth we may live, or from what source we believe our origins derive--lift our glasses to toast these thinkers, as well as those who will follow them to continue to refine what began 2500 years ago.

And to all, a very Happy Thanksgiving!




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