As in our lives, Thanksgiving has become a cultural battleground. Politicians and pundits are debating whether we should use that day to commemorate the tragedy of the Indians or to celebrate the new independence of American pilgrims.
Yet the true origins of Thanksgiving have nothing to do with pilgrims and Indians, and everything has to do with the American victory over slavery. Thanksgiving is upon us, which means the holiday season is in full swing. Most importantly, Thanksgiving is a reminder of how the United States accepted the earlier promise of freedom and used it to end the stigma of slavery.
In early America, the colonies set aside special days for “Providence,” or “Almighty God.” These days of thanksgiving were for a good harvest or military victory, as declared by the Continental Congress in December 1777, after General George Washington’s victory in the Battle of Saratoga.
But the idea of a permanent and national Thanksgiving Day was a woman’s job. When Sarah Joseph Hale decided to launch a campaign for a Thanksgiving holiday, she confirmed her eternal reputation by writing the hymn “Mary Had a Little Lamp”. Since 1846 Mrs. Hale has written letters to every President expressing her annual gratitude for uniting the nation. Her magazine articles were circulated across the country.
President Abraham Lincoln finally accepted the idea from Mrs. Hale. In October 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln declared a National “Thanksgiving Day” to celebrate the Union’s victory in the Civil War. His declaration that it was appropriate and appropriate for the country to thank him for winning the war, which ultimately meant “a great increase in freedom.”
The timing of the first Thanksgiving is important. Earlier this year, Lincoln’s declaration of liberation turned the civil war into a struggle against slavery. Exactly one week before the first Thanksgiving, the President delivered a speech to commemorate the soldiers who died in that war.
In his Gettysburg speech, Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence created “an America dedicated to the idea that all human beings are created equal.” He said it was appropriate and appropriate to dedicate the battlefield to the soldiers who fought and died for that ideal. Lincoln knew that the ideal had not been fully realized, but he hoped that the civil war would ensure a “new birth of freedom” for those whose promises of the Declaration had not yet been kept.
Sarah Joseph Hale would have appreciated the Thanksgiving holiday that turned out to be a celebration of the war on slavery. Her first novel, Northwood: or Life North and South, published in 1827, was the first to condemn the sins of slavery. In it, they explained how slavery not only destroyed African-American life but also corrupted the lives and morals of their masters.
Mrs. Hale spent years writing other articles and stories about the harmful effects of slavery. Like Mr. Lincoln, they also wrote about how the Civil War could reunite the country at a new and higher level of independence.
After the war, whites in the South were skeptical of a “holiday to abolish the Yankee death penalty.” Governors of the Early Reconstruction Period Announced South Thanksgiving Day, Whites Ignored Even when black people and Republicans are feasting. It took decades for Thanksgiving to become a real national holiday. As part of that holiday, it took decades for most of the country to embrace the heritage of pilgrims and Indians.
A Thanksgiving that is celebrated by ex-slaves and abolitionists is something we too can accept. Those of us who rejoice in the day need not ignore the sins of our country. Yet our nation was founded on a brilliant ideology that promised to increase the freedom of more people. We should be thankful for the long and difficult struggle to achieve that ideal, and for our many successes along the way.
Judge Glock is an economic historian and senior policy adviser at the Cicero Institute, a non-partisan think tank.
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