Our Modern Thanksgiving Celebrates The End of Slavery, Not Plymouth Rock.

I have written previously in defense of remembering the First Thanksgiving, and the brief period that followed when the new immigrants and the Massachusetts tribes lived together in mutual respect and tolerance.  As I said then, I believe that ignoring the first 30 years in which the Wampanoag tribes and the original English settlers of Plymouth Colony strove to work together ignores both that a better world was possible and that we can chose to create a better world.

 

But for those who dislike celebrating the First Thanksgiving, I draw your attention to the fact that our modern holiday of Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the First Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony and is instead the result of Lincoln’s proclamation calling for a Day of Thanksgiving following the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg.

 

Gettysburg was the definitive victory of the Union in the Civil War — although that was by no means clear at that time. it marked the high water mark of Confederate military advance and the beginning of consistent Union counter-attack. Ultimately, it was critical to the end of slavery in the United States.

 

For all the failures of Reconstruction, for all that racism and the legacy of slavery persists to this day, there can be no doubt that the victory of the Union over the Confederacy and the end of the institution of slavery in the United States is a cause for which to be thankful. Whether you focus on the slaves who escaped to join the Union army, or the free black volunteers who endured discrimination in the ranks, or simply because our nation survived what Lincoln rightly called the test of whether any nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, there is much for which to be thankful. It is the counsel of cynicism and bitterness to reject the good — or fail to acknowledge it — because evil and injustice have not been banished from the Earth. For if the defeat of the Confederacy and the end of slavery are not causes for which we should all be thankful, then that word has no meaning.

 

Stay tuned . . .

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