There is no single holiday which best embodies the United States than Thanksgiving Day. The American Creed—that notion understood by Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers which exemplifies America’s identity—is contained in this festivity that is celebrated each fourth Thursday in November. Politics, morality, ideology, and religion are fused together to make this America’s signature holiday.
Little did the British Crown imagine when it passed the Uniform Act in 1559 that the stage was being set for the Calvinist religious refugees—who fled persecution and made their way to Holland in 1607—would thirteen years later begin the journey across the Atlantic that foundationally assembled America. The Mayflower Pact, named after the ship that landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts on November 11, 1620, carrying the Pilgrims, was a covenant of self-government bound by the moral parameters established by Christian religion. Natural Law and its highest excellence, liberty, was stapled into the agreement’s conventional arrangement of a “civil body politic”.
During the following fall in 1621, the Pilgrims, joined by the local Wampanoag Indians, celebrated the first Thanksgiving celebration lasting three full days. The idea was to express gratitude to God. Secularists have wrestled with this fact and attempted to revise events to fit a materialist mindset. The attempt to separate the immutable bond that the residents of Plymouth Colony had with Divine Providence was proven futileby history.
In addition to the Mayflower Pact, the First Charter of Virginia which preceded the Mayflower document by fourteen years, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639), and the New England Articles of Confederation (1643) were among the early covenants that placed freedom and a tight-knit relationship with God at the apex of society. These set the epistemological and ethical stage for the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1789). The moral codes which embrace Judeo-Christian values are keenly embedded in the political format that forged the American Republic. This helps understand why during the nation’s most seminal events, like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, both exercised acts of Thanksgiving to the Almighty.
George Washington’s army, after a string of military defeats, finally scored a game changer victory at Saratoga in 1777. The important triumph led by General Horatio Gates, sealed the alliance between France and the United States. A little over two months after that seminal win, Washington declared a national day for prayer and Thanksgiving. The Continental Congress maintained this celebration every year until 1784.
Abraham Lincoln followed Washington’s example, when the Union forces won a fundamental victory at Gettysburg in 1863, changing the Civil War’s course. The great Emancipator made the last Thursday in November a national festivity of Thanksgiving. The constant theme of Washington and Lincoln, two of America’s premier presidents, was to place God at the center of the country’s fate and express the obligatory gratitude for His benevolence with America.
This signature American celebration of faith, custom, and consistency with its founding principles is what Thanksgiving Day is all about. All nations would be wise to practice a version of this beautiful celebration. Happy Thanksgiving Day!