What if another Thanksgiving Day is upon us and owing to the government, we have less to be thankful for than we did at the last one? What if at every Thanksgiving, liberty is weakened and the government is strengthened? What if Thanksgiving’s warm and breezy seduction of gratitude is just the government’s way of inducing us to think we should be grateful for it?
What if we don’t owe the government any thanks for anything? What if the government owes us back all the freedom and property it has stolen from us? What if the government has produced nothing and owns nothing, save what it has coerced us to give it? What if the courts have ruled that the government can lie and cheat with impunity in order to acquire our property or assault our freedoms?
What if the government lies and cheats regularly to enhance its own wealth and power? What if the government claims that its power comes from the consent of the governed? What if no one consented to the government’s spying and lying except those who personally and directly benefit from it?
What if the government is afraid to tell us all it is doing to us, for fear we might vote it out of office? What if that vote would change nothing? What if the spying and lying continued no matter who ran the government? What if those who spy and lie don’t lose their jobs no matter how they lie, upon whom they spy or who gets elected?
What if this holiday of turkey and football and family is the modern-day version of bread and circuses? What if bread and circuses — which Roman emperors gave to the mobs to keep them sated — are just the government’s way today of keeping us sated at the end of every November? What if the government expects us to give thanks to it for letting us have Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off ?
What if the president thinks he’s a king? What if he claims the power to kill people outside the Constitution? What if some of these people were your sisters, neighbors or friends? What if he thinks he’s so smart that he knows what choices we should make? What if he makes those choices for us?
What if we each have the natural right to choose how to care for our own bodies, but he has used the coercive powers of the law to tell us how to do so? What if that law compelled all persons to pay for more health insurance than they needed, wanted or could afford? What if the president deceived dupes in Congress into voting for that law? What if the president deceived millions of Americans into supporting that law? What if the president forced you to pay for a health insurance policy that funded killing babies in their mothers’ wombs?
What if the president knows what you want and need because his spies have captured your every telephone call, text and email? What if the Declaration of Independence says that our rights are personal, inalienable and come from God? What if the Constitution says that among our inalienable rights are the right to be left alone and the right to be different?
What if the president took an oath to uphold the Declaration and the Constitution but believes in neither? What if he believes that our rights come from the collective consent of our neighbors, whom he can influence or, worse yet, from the government, which he can control? What if he believes that he can invade our right to be left alone by spying on us and lying to us, and destroy our right to be different by killing us? What if he actually did all these things?
What if only individuals foolish enough to do so give up their own rights but cannot give up the rights of those of us who refuse to surrender them? What if the government can only constitutionally take away personal freedoms when a jury has convicted someone of a crime? What if the government thinks it can take away our rights by ordinary legislation or by presidential fiat? What if it has done so?
What if someone who once worked for the government knew all this and risked life and limb to tell us about it? What if the government at first denied that it lies to and spies upon all Americans? What if it demonized the whistleblower? What if it chased him to the ends of the Earth because he revealed awful truths? What if everything Edward Snowden revealed about the government turned out to be true?
What if it is the personal courage and constitutional fidelity of Mr. Snowden for which we should be thankful? What if the government hates and fears our freedoms just as it hates and fears the revelation of the awful truths Mr. Snowden possesses?
What if our thanks are a result primarily of the Author of our freedoms, who made us in His image and likeness, and to those who have exercised those freedoms to seek and reveal the truth? What if it is the truth, and not the government, that will keep us free?
What if we have the right to pursue happiness, no matter what the government says? What if we have the right to be unique, no matter what the government wants? What if the freedom to seek the truth will bring us happiness?
What if that freedom, which is still ours, is a just cause for a happy Thanksgiving, after all?
The first national day of Thanksgiving was observed on Nov. 26, 1863, during the midst of the Civil War. To be sure, there had been sporadic observances of bountiful harvests from the time of the first settlers. It wasn’t until Oct. 3, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation would make the last Thursday in November a national holiday.
By the autumn of 1863, Washington represented the best of times and the worst of times. It was still a divided nation’s capital that, unlike its embarrassing history of military penetration by the British in the War of 1812, had not been invaded by the Confederates, although fears of such an eventuality kept residents and visitors anxious. Government jobs represented security and economic activity — from refurbishing official buildings to working on a still-unfinished dome on the Capitol building. (In fact, Lincoln insisted that completion of the dome was a priority.) Contractors proliferated to provide materials for the war, and factories and warehouses sprang up, luring workers
from distant areas, almost doubling the city’s population.
Yet these outward and visible signs that the Union, as represented by the city, would be preserved were marred by the reality of war scars in the form of hospitals overrun by military patients. More than 20,000 injured soldiers were housed not only in hospitals, but even in the Capitol building and U.S. Patent Office, the latter where Horatio Nelson Taft worked. “A number of the officers,” wrote Taft in a diary he kept for the entire war, “had but one arm, and many were lame, and the men as a general thing looked rather pale and not able to stand much fatigue.” Concluding that not many of the wounded would “live through it,” Taft also observed that Confederate patients were also present. “They all receive the same attention, which our own soldiers do in every respect (clothing, etc.).”
War news was foremost in the minds of Washingtonians, who roamed Pennsylvania Avenue (familiarly known as “the Avenue”) often in great crowds waiting for daily newspapers to post updates on “Bulletin Boards” on military efforts. When the boards were bare, there was still tension, as illustrated by diarist Taft.
“There has hardly ever been so dull a time [for news] as for the past week or two. There seems to be nothing going on in the military line that we hear of that is worthy of especial notice.”
Perhaps the worst burden for residents was the high cost of living and shortage of adequate housing. Add to that substandard water supplies, poor sanitation, unpaved streets, mosquitoes and stifling humidity. By late November, however, the arrival of cool weather made residents thankful for the change of seasons.
Like the city’s population in general, the president of the United States observed a Thanksgiving that was decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the news from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s forces in Tennessee was good. On the other hand, reports from Gen. George G. Meade indicated that once again, the military effort in Washington’s backyard had been without a decisive victory.
A week before Thanksgiving, the president attended the Gettysburg dedication ceremonies for a cemetery for those killed in a July battle between Gen. Meade’s army and that of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s. Lincoln was preceded by accomplished orator Edward Everett (minister, politician, editor, Harvard president) who spoke for two hours. The president, in contrast, read a 272-word address that was over before a photographer could complete his chores. “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame,” concluded one newspaper account of the speech, “as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the president of the United States.”
Lincoln returned to Washington in ill health, suffering from a mild case of smallpox. Still, he was optimistic about the immediate future, confiding that the two weeks after Thanksgiving “would be the most momentous period of the rebellion.”
For the well-to-do, late November marked the high tide of the Washington social season, and Thanksgiving Day saw the latest fashions displayed in church services and in subsequent meandering along the Avenue. High-society chitchat centered on the imminent arrival of Russian naval officers, whose fleet had arrived in New York City in September, thwarting efforts of the British Royal Navy to intervene in the war.
For most Washingtonians, though, the first national celebration of Thanksgiving was heralded less in terms of the social circuit, economic issues or even the course of the war. Rather it centered on looking upward with pride — to the Capitol building dome, with the final touches being added. Just six days after Thanksgiving, on Dec. 2, diarist Taft recorded: “The head of the Statue of Freedom was put on today. The figure now stands complete upon the top of the Dome of the Capitol.”