Brookfield Basics

A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.

Once Upon a Time in America**

The Holiday we know as Thanksgiving has two foundations in our nation's history.

The first lies in the autumn of 1621.  The people we know as the Pilgrims gathered to give thanks for having survived their first winter in North America, and for the liberties they enjoyed upon coming to this continent. 

The second lies in the year 1863, as our country was locked in the crucible of the Civil War and mourned the 55,000 casualties of Gettysburg.  Just a few months after that battle, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation which served to establish this day as a National Holiday.

Here is a brief look back on both events.  From the Journal of Nathaniel Morton of Plymouth Colony we read:

"Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses or towns to repair unto to seek help.  And for the season it was winter, and they that know of the winters of this country know them to be sharp and violent".

And in November of 1863, reflecting on two and a half years of horrific conflict, Abraham Lincoln penned this closing stanza to his Thanksgiving Proclamation:

"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no nation has ever grown.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to claim this necessity of reclaiming and preserving grace.  It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole of the American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father".

It was the Pilgrims whose magnificent courage and modest conventions established the traditions that we now know as Thanksgiving.  Two hundred and forty two years later, it was Lincoln who institutionalized this Holiday, and wove it into the fabric of our national life and consciousness.

Amongst many other things this Thursday, I will give thanks for the heritage these people left.  I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.



**The title of this piece was taken from a Sergio Leone movie of the same name.


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