The Other McCain

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Thanksgiving and the Meaning of America

Posted on | November 23, 2023 | 2 Comments

What are you thankful for, this holiday? Personally, I’m thankful for gluten. Our oldest daughter has been on a gluten-free diet for some time, and because she’s visiting us for Thanksgiving — with her husband and two sons, Franco and Luca — my wife bought some gluten-free bread. Not realizing it was gluten-free, I accidentally used this to make a sandwich the other day and, wow. Thank God for gluten. I’d never realized how much I loved gluten, until I didn’t have it.

Ingratitude is a sin. God does so many things for us — the wonderful miracle of gluten! — that we ought to express our gratitude often, but if we only say thanks once a year, it’s the least we can do.

Everybody knows the story of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1621, the surviving English colonists had their first harvest of corn, and invited a group of Wampanoag Indians to join them in a three-day feast to celebrate this success. Fewer are aware that the colonists in Virginia had celebrated Thanksgiving even earlier:

Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607; the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, held a thanksgiving in 1610. On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers celebrated a thanksgiving immediately upon landing at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group’s London Company charter specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God”. This celebration has, since the mid 20th century, been commemorated there annually at present-day Berkeley Plantation, the ancestral home of the Harrison family of Virginia.

For that matter, the claim to the first Thanksgiving in what is today the United States actually belongs to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565.

All of these observations remind us that our nation was founded by Christians, who considered the blessings of God necessary to the success of their dangerous adventure in attempting to establish colonies in what they described as the “wilderness” of America. It is little appreciated now how perilous life was for those early settlers. Captain John Woodlief, who led the expedition that founded the Berkeley plantation in Virginia, was a survivor of the “starving time” in the Jamestown colony. During the winter of 1609-1610, three-quarters of the Jamestown settlement perished, leaving just 60 survivors of the 240 who had begun the winter inside their fort, besieged by hostile Powhatan Indians. The hazards involved in crossing an ocean to establish those first English settlements in America made the colonists keenly aware of the need for divine protection, so their “thanksgiving to Almighty God” was quite sincere.

We ourselves are cursed to live in an age of ingratitude, with idiotic intellectuals demanding we “decolonize Thanksgiving.” The Left has persuaded our intelligentsia that success is something to be ashamed of — to succeed is to become an oppressor — rather than something for which we should be grateful to God. The beneficiaries of college education are nowadays indoctrinated with this destructive nonsense, wherein the success of English colonists in America is viewed as a bad thing, and we’re supposed to feel guilty that any of them survived.

Recall what I said last month about Gaza:

Liberals make the same mistake about this situation that they make on every other issue: Having made an idol of “Equality,” liberals decide that members of a less-than-successful group are victims of “oppression,” and then accuse their more successful neighbors of perpetrating this oppression.

This obsession with victimhood produces a mentality that sees “oppression” everywhere, and results in a rhetoric of demonization, making scapegoats of people in order to justify retaliatory measures against them. This mentality explains how many on the Left actually celebrated the terrorist massacres that Hamas perpetrated on October 7: Those Israelis deserved to die, according to this perverse leftist worldview, because all Israelis are complicit in the “oppression” of Palestinians. My friend Marty Seiff’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East, is a solid rebuttal of the Palestinian victimhood myth, but the Left doesn’t care about facts. They’re just trying to provoke a lynch-mob mentality, and rely upon the ignorance of their followers, who are too lazy to discover the truth for themselves, and instead regurgitate whatever pro-Hamas propaganda they are fed.

Excuse me for bringing up the Gaza war, but you see that the people who tell us Israel is guilty of “genocide” are the same people who think Americans have nothing to be grateful for at Thanksgiving.

Well, I’m grateful for gluten, among other things, and nobody’s going to make me feel guilty for enjoying today’s feast.

The first English colonies in America were founded during the reign of King James I, the Scots-born great-great-grandson of Henry Tudor. The Jamestown settlement was named in honor of the king, whereas the Virginia colony was named in honor of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth, who never married and thus was known as “the virgin queen.” It is a source of some amusement to me that those “social justice” activists who complain about Confederate memorials seem to have no problem with place names that honor British monarchs. If you ever visit Alexandria, Virginia, you’ll notice King Street, Queen Street, etc., and none of the liberals who claim to venerate “democracy” seem to have any qualms about these historical tributes to British royalty. But I digress . . .

The English came late to the colonial enterprise in the New World. Beginning with the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish led the way, first in the Caribbean islands and later in the mainland of Central and South America. Mexico was conquered by Cortez in 1521, and by 1532 Pizarro conquered the Incas in Peru, all of these conquests preceding by many decades the first English colonies in North America. These Spanish conquests, however, were sequels to the beginning of the Age of Exploration. In the second volume of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill writes about how the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople set this age in motion:

The destruction of the Byzantine Empire and the Turkish occupation of Asia Minor imperilled the land route to the East. The road which had nourished the towns and cities of the Mediterranean and founded the fortunes and the greatness of the Genoese and the Venetians was now barred. . . .
Portugal was the first to discover a new path. Helped by English Crusaders, she had achieved her independence in the twelfth century, gradually expelled the Moors from her mainland, and now reached out to the African coastline. Prince Henry the Navigator, grandson of John of Gaunt, had initiated a number of enterprises. Exploring began from Lisbon. All through the later fifteenth century Portuguese mariners had been pushing down the west coast of Africa, seeing for gold and slaves, slowly extending the bounds of the known world, till, in 1487, Bartholomew Diaz rounded the great promontory that marked the end of the African continent. He called it “the Cape of Storms,” but the King of Portugal with true insight renamed it “the Cape of Good Hope.” The hope was justified; in 1498 Vasco da Gama dropped anchor in the harbour of Calicut; the sea-route was open to the wealth of India and the Farther East.

Notice how African slaves merit just a passing reference in Churchill’s account of these Portuguese explorations in the 1400s. The whole point of the enterprise, after all, was to find some way to reach Asia by sea, after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople had “barred” the overland route to the Far East. The first African slaves were brought back to Europe from these expeditions in the 1450s by Portuguese mariners who, sailing up the Gambia River in search of a route to Asia, hadn’t found the fabled wealth of the East, but had found natives who were willing to exchange their slaves for trade goods. All of this activity was in response to the loss of Constantinople and, as Churchill remarks, Portugal itself had spent decades fighting to escape the Moorish Islamic conquest.

When I was a schoolboy, we learned about the history of the Age of Exploration, and I recall the names of Diaz and de Gama as answers on multiple-choice questions in fifth-grade history class. Do they still teach this kind of history in schools? Are young people imbued with the sense of this historical era as one of great adventures and rivalries between European powers? The Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French — all of them were competitors in this colonial game, and the English didn’t make their entry until quite late. Decades before the English founded their colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts, for example, Jean Ribault had sought to establish French colonies, first building a fort on the South Carolina coast, and then getting into a disastrous fight with the Spanish in Florida. Growing up in Georgia, I was taught that one of the main reasons this colony was founded was to create a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the English colonies in the Carolinas.

History gives meaning to our lives. If we study this history, we understand that the success of the English colonies in America was by no means certain, and that the colonists who survived the many dangers of those early years had reasons for their “thanksgiving to Almighty God.” (Perhaps not least of which, they didn’t have to eat gluten-free bread.) The specifically Christian nature of their belief ought to be acknowledged, and while some may scoff at such beliefs, I myself don’t doubt that God’s help was necessary to the success of these colonies that have since grown to become the United States of America.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.



2 Responses to “Thanksgiving and the Meaning of America”

  1. That for which I am thankful – THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL.
    November 23rd, 2023 @ 12:35 pm

    […] Also see: Robert Stacy McCain, Thanksgiving and the Meaning of America […]

  2. News of the Week (November 26th, 2023) | The Political Hat
    November 26th, 2023 @ 2:28 pm

    […] Thanksgiving and the Meaning of America What are you thankful for, this holiday? Personally, I’m thankful for gluten. Our oldest daughter has been on a gluten-free diet for some time, and because she’s visiting us for Thanksgiving — with her husband and two sons, Franco and Luca — my wife bought some gluten-free bread. Not realizing it was gluten-free, I accidentally used this to make a sandwich the other day and, wow. Thank God for gluten. I’d never realized how much I loved gluten, until I didn’t have it. […]