My “favorite” “founding father”

This post at the American Catholic spurred some debate.  Since I’d like to at least attempt to keep this blog relatively non-partisan, I’d simply like to analyze the question for what it is rather than Sarah Palin’s response to it.

If I were asked this, I’d probably give a response that would also have most viewers rolling their eyes, but for different reasons.  First of all, I object to the term “Founding Father.”  Now this is a pet peeve of mine that has diminished over the years.  I understand the arguments in favor of the phrase, but to me it is still a misnomer.  The American Nation was not created out of whole cloth on July 4, 1776.  A nation of sorts already existed, though it was nominally ruled by the British Empire.  But the American colonial experience certainly had an impact on those that would form the initial American government.  Now, I don’t want to go too far in the extreme direction of dismissing the achievements and significance of the American Revolution as it was indeed more than a simple regime change.  But America already existed; the great achievement of the men that we call the Founding Fathers was to mold it into a Nation strengthened by a Constitution and set of laws.

But this is mere quibbling.  Whatever term one may want to use (I prefer “Framers”), which of these great men was the greatest?  Initially I suggested that correct answer is James Madison.  And I do think that Madison was the greatest thinker of this generation, and it was his philosophy more than any other that shaped the early American republic.  But then I got to thinking -what is greatness?  What standard are we using?

So then I turned to John Adams, who I believe was actually much closer to Madison than Jefferson was (and in turn I believe Madison was closer to Adams than was Hamilton).  Not only was Adams a titan of an intellect, he arguably did more than any other colonial figure to spur the Americans to revolution.  Donald has already written a couple of posts that demonstrate Adams’s fair-mindedness, and he was – despite a quick temper and degree of vanity spurred by personal insecurity – a man capable of giving full hearing to his opponents.

But then I began to wonder if I was over-valuing intellect and political philosophy.  How can I dismiss George Washington’s accomplishments?  He arguably saved the American republic not once, but twice – first by leading the army to victory, and then by guiding the Nation as its first president.

And what of the lesser known figures, the ones who shaped public opinions in their states and fought for independence?

And so the more I thought about it, the more I began to think – maybe Sarah Palin’s answer wasn’t so bad after all.


The First Thanksgiving

On Thursday, we will be giving thanks to an unspecified being for our enormous good fortune, much as the early Pilgrims did in Plymouth some four hundred years ago when they gave thanks for their bountiful harvest and celebrated with the Native Americans.  Only, that’s not the real story behind the first Thanksgiving.  My co-blogger Gipper Clone emailed me this article by Richard Mayburyin which he explains why our traditional understanding of the original day of Thanksgiving is faulty.  Further, it masks the real story of Thanksgiving: our forebears only succeeded once they ditched the socialist utopia that was killing them off in droves.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.

In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation,’ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

. . .To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.

So the true story of the first Thanksgiving is that the colonists were giving thanks to . .  capitalism!

Except that’s not the truth behind the first Thanksgiving.  In fact, it was a small holiday celebrated in Virginia on Berkeley Plantation.

Each first Sunday in November a Thanksgiving Festival is held at the Berkeley Plantation in accordance with documentation from 1619. The event fulfills instructions given to the 38 settlers who arrived on the banks of the James River at Berkeley Hundred as documented in the proclamation:

    Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.

Very interesting.  Except that’s not the real story behind the first Thanksgiving.  As Jay Anderson explains, there is another account of the first Thanksgiving.

If you want to know about the real first Thanksgiving on American soil, travel 1,200 miles south and more than 50 years earlier to a grassy spot on the Matanzas River in North Florida.

This is where Spanish Adm. Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on Sept. 8, 1565. This is where he, 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 civilian families and artisans, and the Timucuan Indians who occupied the village of Seloy gathered at a makeshift altar and said the first Christian Mass. And afterward, this is where they held the first Thanksgiving feast.

Jay notes that there were several other “first” Thanksgivings, including the first official US proclamation issued by President Washington.  And as we all know, Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863, when it was instituted by President Lincoln.

So, what’s the real story?

Does it matter?

Whatever the real story of the first Thanksgiving is, let us all just take a moment to give thanks to God for all that he has bestowed upon us that live in this greatest Nation in the world.


Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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