Happy Thanksgiving

Students often express disbelief… and disappointment when they are informed of the true history behind the Thanksgiving holiday.  Years of being taught the story of  Pilgrims, Squanto, and the first harvest leave an indelible mark upon young minds.  There is no debate that these events occurred, rather, the effects of the cooperation are what can be considered contentious.  County and state fairs are the true celebrations of the harvest and happen at the appropriate time of year.  The reasonable question is how did we arrive at the last Thursday in November as our National Day of Thanks?

Let’s all draw a hand turkey…

We have Abraham Lincoln to thank… for the holiday.  Issued at the height of the Civil War, Lincoln hoped to unite various state holidays already in existence into a National “festival of Union.”   The original draft was composed by Secretary of State, William Seward.  Lincoln issued the final draft on October 3, 1863.


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 unequaled 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 theater of military conflict; while that theater 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 defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has 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 battlefield; 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 one 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


By the President: WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State

For the better angels of our nature…

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Most Influential Americans

Smithsonian Magazine’s latest edition compilesa list of the 100 most influential Americans in history.  Lists like this are entirely subjective, and designed to stir healthy debate.  There are surprising mentions and curious omissions…the Smithsonian succeeds in starting the discourse.


Givens- Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison, TR, FDR, MLK


Curious additions- Tecumseh, Malcolm X, Amerigo Vespucci, Al Capone, Lee Harvey Oswald, Boss Tweed, Hulk Hogan, Woodrow Wilson


Omissions-  Barack Obama, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Stephen Decatur, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Jefferson Davis, Lewis&Clark, Henry Clay, William Faulkner


Are you kidding?… Charles Manson, L. Ron Hubbard, Secretariat, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Giovanni de Verranzo

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Facts in Five

Thanksgiving Edition

  • The “original” Thanksgiving in Plymouth would not have happened the last week in November- the dead of Winter in Massachusetts 
  • Lincoln declared a national day of thanks in 1863- the last Thursday in November
  • Congress did not declare Thanksgiving a national holiday until 1941
  • 88% of Americans will consume  turkey on Thursday
  • Macy’s sponsors the Thanksgiving parade to kick off the Christmas shopping season
Can we not talk about exploitation and just enjoy the feast?

Can we not talk about exploitation and just enjoy the feast?

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A Change of Heart?

An absurd new book about Thomas Jefferson… by Henry Wiencek called “The Master of the Mountain” wants to change American history.  Wiencek hates Jefferson and wants you to as well.  He bends and twists evidence to suit his needs, even to the point of upsetting Annette Gordon-Reed.    Gordon-Reed, no fan of our third President, provides a telling review of Wiencek’s nasty little screed:

“Suffice it to say that the problems with Master of the Mountain are too numerous to allow it to be taken seriously as a book that tells us anything new about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, and what it does say is too often wrong. It is, instead, a book about Henry Wiencek—with Jefferson, enslaved people, and the mountain thrown in for scenery. As he seeks to destroy Jefferson, Wiencek seeks to put himself in the place of the “Master of the Mountain” and become the true protector of the enslaved people of Monticello.”

Oh really…..do tell.

Perhaps it is a stretch to see this as a change of heart… A better explanation is the extreme nature of this poorly written book.  Weak Jefferson scholarship continues to proliferate because popular culture embraces the degradation of our most enigmatic Founder.   It does say something when scholars with similar axes to grind turn on one another in print….somewhere, Dumas Malone is smiling.

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Conspiracy Eats Itself

Conspiracies rely upon the unknown… where there is no paper trail, recorded voices, or first hand accounts, conspiracies thrive.  Nothing brings out distrust more than secrecy, regardless of its motivation.  To say that every conspiracy is unfounded is either dangerously naive, or the weakest defense of a person with something to hide.  Where you find enough secrecy, there will always be conspiracy theories- because the historical record is not definitive…secrecy prevents it. 

Patsy no longer

Patsy no longer

Mafia, Cubans, Russians, Alien contact… there has been enough secrecy surrounding John Kennedy’s assassination, and the subsequent investigation, to fill volumes- enough to even prompt another government inquiry.  There is so much secrecy, so many unanswered questions surrounding Kennedy’s death that multiple conspiracies competed for the public’s attention.  Every avenue unsatisfactorily explored by official investigation is open to scrutiny, followed by conjecture.  Competing conspiracy theories have grown more outrageous through the years- many bordering on the absurd.  

Mystery in a riddle...

Mystery in a riddle…

The ebbs and flows of the historical record… now show  lone gunman theories back in favor.  Every major study of the assassination in the last decade has fingered Lee Harvey Oswald as the shooter.  The Grassy Knoll is now a punchline, rather than an epicenter.  The new authoritative narrative on the assassination dismisses long sought after eyewitnesses accounts as unreliable, confused, or fraudulent.      Tactics utilized by conspiracy theorist for decades have been turned around with chilling effect-  on the 50th anniversary of the assassination- believe Oswald acted alone or else. 

Never Forget Edward Lansdale- the key man.


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Not a Fair Fight

Barack Obama’s decision not to attend ceremonies… commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address was controversial.  The Obama administration, already under severe scrutiny for the botched health insurance roll-out, was in no mood for more criticism regarding the President’s decision making.  

Really not that close?  Obama was sworn in on the Lincoln bible....twice

Really not that close? Obama was sworn in on the Lincoln bible….twice

The decision not to attend ANY sesquicentennial Gettysburg…celebrations struck many observers as an odd one.  President Obama has gone out of his way establishing historic ties to our 16th President, a fellow Illinoisan.   He announced his candidacy in 2007 near the doors of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield, was sworn in on the Lincoln bible in 2009 and 2013, and followed Lincoln’s train route to Washington in 2009.  The country sees the connection- Lincoln must mean a lot to this President… why the snub?

Only a photo op ?

Only a photo op ?

Presidents have gone to Gettysburg before… but have avoided the November anniversary- the Gettysburg Address remembrance.  Speaking at Gettysburg draws comparisons to Lincoln’s greatest speech- not a fair fight by any measure.  Wilson’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1913 is generally considered lackluster.  Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all visited Gettysburg during ceremonies honoring the battle- their words were forgettable.  Lyndon Johnson is often praised for his words there in 1963, but those were delivered on Memorial Day.

Can we still call upon our better angels?

Can we still call upon our better angels?

No President wants to be compared to Lincoln,… especially during times of political difficulty.  Despite the dangers of historical context, Presidents in the 20th century made the journey to Gettysburg- for appearance if nothing else.  The current President allowed present difficulty to cloud his judgement- an army of spin doctors and acolytes are trying to repair the damage in cyber space, but a legitimate opportunity at historical remembrance was missed.  It is entirely reasonable that the people question his alleged fidelity with Lincoln.

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Credit Where it is Due

Finest two minutes

Lincoln thought he failed November 19, 1863…  obligatory applause from a damp crowd in Gettysburg offered him little consolation.  Lincoln had just followed a masterful two-hour speech from America’s greatest orator, Edward Everett.  The President sat down in his seat and commented to his friend, Ward Lamon, that the speech wouldn’t “scour” (would fail to clear away.)  He left Gettysburg believing the bad press that followed the ceremony.  The Chicago Times recorded, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

Greatness acknowledged

Edward Everett put the ceremony in the proper perspective:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.


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