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Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2019

Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has been writing a near-daily political dispatch called Letters from an American for the past several weeks (her archives go further back on Facebook), mostly about the impeachment proceedings and their historical context.

In today’s letter, Richardson reminds us why Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Everyone generally knows that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags shared a feast in fall 1621, and that early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and — with luck — prosperity.

But this is not why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

We celebrate thanks to President Abraham Lincoln and his defense of American democracy during the Civil War.

Northerners elected Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 to stop rich southern slaveholders from taking over the government and using it to cement their own wealth and power. When voters elected Lincoln, those same southern leaders pulled their states out of the Union and set out to create their own nation, the Confederate States of America, based in slavery and codifying the idea that some men were better than others and that this small elite group should rule the country. Under Lincoln, the United States government set out to end this slaveholders’ rebellion and bring the South back into a Union in which the government worked for people at the bottom, not just those at the top.