Grat­i­tude re­con­sid­ered

The Washington Times Daily - - From Page One - By An­drew P. Napoli­tano By Thomas V. DiBacco

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.”

ILLUSTRATION BY HUNTER

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