AMAC Newsline – By Shane Harris
Religious conservatives have often lamented the so-called “war on Christmas,” and for good reason – nothing quite captures the radical left’s antipathy toward religion like their insatiable desire to divorce “the holiday season” from its Christian origins. But relatively little has been said about a parallel effort to bash our country’s history and erode the Judeo-Christian values that form the bedrock of our society. Thanksgiving, it seems, is also in need of cultural defenders.
One need only look at a sampling of headlines from recent years to see how determined the left is to make Americans feel ashamed for celebrating Thanksgiving. A Washington Post headline last year declared that “violence” is “at the root of the Thanksgiving myth.” An opinion piece that appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital Star was even more direct, asserting that “celebrating Thanksgiving is celebrating racist genocide.” Time Magazine called the “Thanksgiving tale” a “harmful lie.” Writer Gyasi Ross told an MSNBC audience last year that “genocide and violence” were “on the menu” at the First Thanksgiving. A weather service called “Currently” posted a tweet last November accusing people who celebrate Thanksgiving of “perpetuat[ing] a false narrative, that spins the true history of genocide and colonization into a light and largely false story.” This year, activists have planned an anti-Thanksgiving protest at Plymouth Rock.
Many schools have also stopped teaching the “traditional” story of Thanksgiving, instead opting for a version steeped in left-wing identity politics. Last year, for example, the chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools sent a letter to parents encouraging them to “decolonize” Thanksgiving and “use terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing, stolen land, and forced removal to reflect actions taken by colonizers” when discussing the holiday with their children. The Associated Press reported in 2020 that K-12 schools are now using Thanksgiving as an opportunity to talk about “conflict” and “injustice.”
Leftist proponents of “reimagining” Thanksgiving insist that their biggest problem with the holiday is the “historical accuracy” of the simplified story most of us grew up learning. And they are correct that some commonly held beliefs about Thanksgiving are inaccurate. For example, the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620 was hardly a first-contact episode for the Wampanoag people and European settlers. The best historical evidence we have suggests that multiple Wampanoag spoke English, and tribes in the area had been in contact with European traders for more than a century (after all, the Pilgrims’ journey was nearly 130 years after Columbus’s famous voyage in 1492). What would come to be known as the “First Thanksgiving” wasn’t just a good faith celebration between native tribes and the Pilgrims, either; the Wampanoag almost certainly wanted the Pilgrims’ help in fending off rival tribes in the area.
Additionally, the Wampanoag story doesn’t end with the First Thanksgiving. In a tragic tale all too similar to that which befell so many other Native American tribes, they would eventually be forced from their land and decimated by war and diseases from which they had no natural immunity. The atrocities committed on both sides during colonization and westward expansion are undoubtedly an ugly and true part of the American story.
But the same people lecturing the rest of us about teaching “complete history” and “contextualizing” Thanksgiving also conspicuously leave out other details about the Pilgrims’ story that more than redeem it as a tale worth telling and celebrating.
Most importantly, the story of collaboration between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag should be celebrated (especially by the left) as a powerful historical example of people of different races, cultures, and religions working together for mutual benefit – a founding ideal of the United States. The peace treaty the two groups signed in 1621 would become the only treaty between European settlers and a Native American tribe that remained in effect throughout the lifetime of the signatories. As an antidote to so much of the negativity our children are taught about America’s past, there is value in studying this moment in time where settlers and Native Americans managed to prosper alongside one another, and even to cooperate.
The Pilgrims also exemplified key virtues and principles which would help birth the American independence movement more than 150 years later and which have continued to define our national character. Along with religious liberty, the Pilgrims came to America in search of economic opportunity and the chance to succeed through hard work and sheer will – two luxuries we often take for granted but which were not available to most ordinary people in Europe at the time.
Although that first winter nearly wiped out the fledgling Plymouth colony, the Pilgrims persevered through ingenuity, grit, and an unwavering faith in God – three more virtues that would come to define a unique American identity in the centuries to come.
The Pilgrims also produced an incredible document called the “Mayflower Compact” – the first written constitution in the New World, which proposed the radical idea that a people could govern themselves according to laws agreed upon with each other. As historian Rebecca Fraser put it, the Mayflower Compact “was the first experiment in consensual government in Western history between individuals with one another, and not with a monarch.” It was, in a sense, the birth of American democracy. Importantly, as the first words of the Mayflower Compact make clear, such an experiment in self-government was only possible “in the name of God,” establishing Christianity as the necessary moral foundation of the law.
The Mayflower Compact notably held that human beings derive their right to self-government from God and not a king, and that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed – two central pillars of the Declaration of Independence, and later the U.S. Constitution. In a speech commemorating the landing of the Pilgrims in 1802, President John Quincy Adams remarked that the Mayflower Compact was “perhaps the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government.”
All of these reasons that Thanksgiving is worth celebrating as part of American history – in addition, of course, to giving thanks to God – are also reasons why the left has launched such a vigorous assault on the holiday. From religious faith to the first inklings of a doctrine of unalienable rights that would later spark a global revolt against the institution of slavery, Thanksgiving represents everything that the left hopes to erase from our cultural consciousness. In the fight to honor and protect traditional American culture, defending our history from ideological corruption is as important as protecting against gender madness in schools or wokeness in the workplace. As conservatives, we must celebrate, not apologize for, America’s Thanksgiving traditions, and for all traditions which reflect the very best of our country.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.