Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holiday History 101: The History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving.... what is Thanksgiving and what does it mean to us today?  In America, we think of family, turkey and football.  We tend to gather together with family to officially kick off the six week period that we refer to as "The Holiday Season" when we are inundated with food, cooler weather and Santa Claus.  But it has not always been this way.  Where did this holiday start?  And are its roots really with the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing the things they have in the name of peace and cooperation?

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated in Canada and the United States. It was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. According to our modern calendars, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. While the United States and Canada are the trumpeteers of Thanksgiving, there are a number of other countries around the world who have similar celebrations.  The historical roots of our Thanksgiving holiday are in religious and cultural traditions, very much like other holidays these days it also is celebrated in a more secular way for many.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times, all around the world. The Thanksgiving holiday's history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation.  It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.  In the English tradition, days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services became important during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII and in reaction to the large number of religious
holidays on the Catholic calendar.  Before 1536 there were 95 Church holidays, plus 52 Sundays, when people were required to attend church and forego work and sometimes pay for expensive celebrations. The 1536 reforms reduced the number of Church holidays to 27, but some Puritans wished to completely eliminate all Church holidays, including Christmas and Easter.  

These holidays were to be replaced by specially called Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving, in response to events that the Puritans viewed as acts of special providence. Unexpected disasters or threats of judgement from on high called for Days of Fasting.  Special blessings, viewed as coming from God, called for Days of Thanksgiving. For example, Days of Fasting were called on account of drought in 1611, floods in 1613, and plagues in 1604 and 1622. Days of Thanksgiving were called following the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 and following the deliverance of Queen Anne in 1705.  An unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and developed into Guy Fawkes Day.  In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.  The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest. Pilgrims and Puritans who began emigrating from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the "First Thanksgiving", including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.  According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.  Now called Oktober Feesten, Leiden's autumn thanksgiving celebration in 1617 was the occasion for sectarian disturbance that appears to have accelerated the pilgrims' plans to emigrate to America.   Later in Massachusetts, religious thanksgiving services were declared by civil leaders such as Governor Bradford, who planned the colony's thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623.  The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.  Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes.  As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God".

In modern times the President of the United States, in addition to issuing a proclamation, will "pardon" a turkey, which spares the bird's life and ensures that it will spend the duration of its life roaming freely on farmland.

Debate about first celebrations in the United States The traditional representation of where the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States has often been a subject of boosterism and debate, though the debate is often confused by mixing up the ideas of a Thanksgiving holiday celebration and a Thanksgiving religious service. According to author James Baker, this debate is a "tempest in a beanpot" and "marvelous nonsense".  Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas promote their own colonists, who (like many people getting off a boat) gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land.  These claims include an earlier religious service by Spanish explorers in Texas at San Elizario in 1598, as well as thanksgiving feasts in the Virginia Colony.  Robyn Gioia and Michael Gannon of the University of Florida argue that the earliest Thanksgiving service in what is now the United States was celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida.  A day for Thanksgiving services was codified in the founding charter of Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia in 1619.

According to Baker, "Historically, none of these had any influence over the evolution of the modern United States holiday. The American holiday's true origin was the New England Calvinist Thanksgiving. Never coupled with a Sabbath meeting, the Puritan observances were special days set aside during the week for thanksgiving and praise in response to God's providence."

Fixing the date of the holiday The earlier Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada has often been attributed to the earlier onset of winter in the north, thus ending the harvest season earlier.  Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century. Prior to Canadian Confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872, when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales' recovery from a serious illness.  By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6. However, when World War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week. To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October.  Since 1971, when the American Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, the American observance of Columbus Day has coincided with the Canadian observance of Thanksgiving.

Much as in Canada, Thanksgiving in the United States was observed on various dates throughout history. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln, the date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century. Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states.  Because of the ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America's refusal to recognize Lincoln's authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. Two years earlier, Roosevelt had used a presidential proclamation to try to achieve this change, reasoning that earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.

So go out - eat turkey, enjoy pumpkin pie -- and take a moment to give thanks for what you have -- and most of all, have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury which is currently a work in progress.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

American History 101: The History of Immigration in America and Why we have Illegal Immigrants Today


A contentious subject in America and American politics to be sure.  Every election cycle, it is one of the top five issues that are discussed, and this election is no different.  And in case you are wondering, the candidates all have slightly different views on this subject.  Donald Trump wants to simply deport those who have come here illegally, and build a wall between the United States and Mexico that is patrolled heavily and will use deadly force to enforce our imperfect, and inconsisent laws on immigration.  Hillary Clinton simply wants to open our borders and allow everyone in... then just let them be citizens.  Gary Johnson has discussed a common sense immigration plan that will allow those who are here a clear path to citizenship, while offering the same clear and sensible path to citzenship to anyone who wants to come to America -- that will make people legal, tax paying citizens while still enabling American border patrols to deport those who wish to flaut our laws.

** Please note that for the purposes of this discussion, the blacks in America are considered citizens and not immigrants, because they legally were.  I fully understand that in the 1880's and forward were still heavily discrinminated against, and not remotely seen as equal to white Americans.

All that being said, immigration is not a new issue at all.  It has been an issue since the 19th century when Chinese immgrants came to America to get in on the gold rush and become rich.  This was the first real iteration of the idea that "if you come to America you will become rich" and that the "streets of America are paved with gold."  The reality for 19th century immigrants to America, whether they were Chinese, Irish, Italian or other, was that the streets of America were not paved at all, instead they were constructed of dirt and rocks, and filled with horse crap, human waste and garbage that was coupled with disease, heart ache and hard work.  This happened on both ends of the country and Americans were universally enganging in racism and discrimination against the newcomers who were doing no more than trying to escape oppression, austerity and starvation in their home country only to be faced by what were arguable more difficult conditions here in America.  What was the difference? The difference in America was opportunity and pure, rich natural resources.  The stories of quick riches and bountiful land were true.  People did come to America and get rich panning for gold, and huge tracts of land were available to almost anyone who was willing to farm it.  Farming proved to be a road to death, starvation and austirety for many -- but the opportunity was enough for many to give it a go.  

Chinese farm laborors - 1920's
The path to poor immigration policy, and racist law making began in America in 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which has a list of specific laws that prohibitied the immigration of Chinese nationals.  This was in response to the massive injection of Chinese to the west coast in order to take part in the gold rush.  The issues stemmed largely from Chinese, doing nothing more than what Americans and immigrants from other countries were doing, staking claims to mines and rivers and the local law doing nothing to eject them from these areas so "Americans" could mine or pan for the gold.  In reality, the white people had no right to those areas any more than the Chinese, but the white folk felt that the because the Chinese looked different, they should be removed.  This is clearly wrong, but the American goverment did not share that opinion -- and so the Chinese became the first group of immigrants who were legally discriminated against by federal law.  This law stayed in effect until 1943.

Unfortunately for those seeking their fortune in America, American government did not see this policy has bad nor did it stop with the Chinese moving forward.  The Immigration Act of 1891 gave the Federal Government full control over immigration into the United States, and Ellis Island opened for "business" in 1892 as the unofficial hub of
Ellis Island Inspectors
immigration into the United States.  The act of 1891 gave the powers of a police force to federal employees to make immediate and unsupervised decisions on who is allowed in the country.  And they could do so based on country of origin, what they looked like, how they spoke, if they liked them or not -- or even based on bribery.  If an immigration agent saw something they liked in the few possessions a family of immigrants from Ireland, they had the power to deny them entry into the country unless the family gave it to them.  Using Ellis Island as the central point of immigration into the country, the Federal Government was now able to more easily enforce its restrictive immigration and naturalization policies.  The Immigration Act of 1917 extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by extending all banned immigration from the Chinese to most Asian countries, and introduced a literacy test for all immigrants above the age of 16.  In 1921 and 1924 the federal government assigned quotas on immigration coming from Europe by combining immigration data with United States Census data to "count the people" thanks to the newly found efficiencies introduced by IBM and the Hollerith Counting Machines.  (For a more complete history on IBM, Hollerith and how American automation cost millions their lives read: IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black).  One notable exception that will play into later legislation was the in the 1924 law, Canadians and Latin Americans were exempt from the quote system.  

In fact, during the "Roaring 20's", the United States looked to Mexico for its primary source of cheap, easy manual labor.  However, during this decade it became obvious to Mexico that the Mexicans in America (legally) were the victims of heavy racism, discsimination and violence as Americans chose to try and drive Mexicans out because they looked different and did not speak the language.  This was ignited largely by American returning from World War I and finding that they had no jobs because of Mexican labor, and the massive number of Mexican immigrants in such a short period of time.

All of this would change in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression ensued.  We will not discuss the impact of the Great Depression in depth here, but millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, their money, their possessions and their lives almost overnight.  Unemployment was not just an issue, it was a systemic disease that caused starvation, homelessness and violence as Americans fought for their very existence.  Without writing a book on it, I cannot over-state how rampant austerity in American became.  The government had to address the Mexicans who immigrated (legally) to America during the previous thirty years and were working on American farms and in American factories.  One way in which the American government sought to curb unemployment was with new Immigration policy.  Between 1929 and 1935 the United States government sent back almost 80% of the Mexicans who came to America to Mexico, through a negotiated agreement with the Mexican government.  This helped appease angry Americans who felt the government was not doing enough to put food on the table of American homes.

If you think the immigration policy of the United States was bad before the Great Depression... just wait until you read what the United States and Franklin Delano Roosevelt did.  If you think they did what they had to in order to address immediate issues, and make the people happy... you are not wrong...

As the Great Depression in the United States wore on, year after year, immigration began to wane.  By the mid-1930's, America was only deporting around 9,000 Mexicans each year and that continued into the 1940's.  But as America went to war (again) it quickly became clear that there simply were not enough American men to keep America running.  American women were pressed into working for their country, and to support the war effort -- but it was not enough.  Farmers quickly saw that women were not going to work in the fields performing "stoop labor".  In response to the plea of the American farmer, and to ensure that there was going to be food on American tables, the United States reached out to their old friend Mexico and said, "Send us your workers!"  Mexico responded by saying, "Uh, I don't know..."  Mexico was well-aware that their people were mistreated by Americans, and then kicked out of America when America saw them as a problem.  In addition, the United States draft would draft alll males in America above the age of 17, it did not require citizenship.  Mexico wanted to make sure that their people
weren't abused, did not fight an American war and that Mexico somehow benefitted from Mexicans workign in American jobs.  The negotiated deal would come to be known as the Bracero Program.  It was a system by which Mexico would identify and send north qualified and hard-working individuals.  In return, America would authorize them to work in America for a set amount of time, make guaranteed wages, with guaranteed protections and at the end of their term they could re-apply to work in America.  Mexico saw this is a win-win.  They could send workers to America, guarantee them work, solve their own unemployment issues and the workers would send back money to Mexico that would be injected into the Mexican economy -- and then when their term of service was up, they would bring back American automation and expertise to Mexico.  What could possibly go wrong?  This was an immediate disaster.  Americans did not welcome the Mexicans in and allow them to work in factories to help the war effort.  Instead, they gave them jobs in the fields working short-hoes to grow crops.  There was no passing of information to the workers, and the wages were lower than imagined.  In addition, because of the ensuing illegal immigration that I will detail below -- over 750,000 Mexicans fought for the United States in World War II.  But, the jobs were guaranteed and the were not overworked or mistreated (based on the stipulations of the agreement).  Unfortunately, the center of American immgration was in New York.  Mexicans were coming north through Texas and California.  There was no control over who was coming in -- even though there was an agreement in place.  And illegal immigration skyrocketed as soon as the ink was dry on the paper, and Mexicans realized how much work there was in America.  American farmers responded by hiring the illegals over the Braceros because they could pay them less and work them 80 hours per week without blinking twice.  And so the illegal immigration and migrant worker issue was created.  

This practice continued throughout the war, and in 1945 when World War II was over and American G.I.'s returned and tried to resume their lives, they found that they could not.  And that is where the idea that Mexican immigrants are taking American jobs came from.  Because it was true, at the time.  What became clear by 1950 was that even as some Bracero contracts were not renewed on American farms that actually paid attention to the law, Americans did not want or take those jobs.  In California alone there were approximately 50,000 unemployed Americans and over 70,000 open agricultural jobs in 1965.  Farmers could not find Americans willing to work in the fields, they preferred unemployment.  Because of this, the American government was slow to act on the illegal immigration issue -- even at the insistance of the American people.  The farmers continued to pressure the government, telling them that without the illegal workers, there would no farm produce.  And the federal government reacted by shuffling its feet, passing legislation with no teeth.  The Bracero Program (that still provided labor at a cheaper rate than American labor demanded) continued until 1965.  The Bracero Program provided over 66,000 Mexican laborers at its wartime height in 1944 -- the program was providing over 437,000 Mexican workers at its peacetime high in 1959.  The program was set to be put for renewal every two years, and ultimately was simply not renewed at the end of 1965 -- and as a result, Texas and California lost almost 180,000 workers overnight.  This caused the shortage of workers mentioned above and was highly criticized for not being phased out to help the American farmer.  As a result, the American farmer has little recourse beyond hiring the unregulated and highly available illegal immigrant worker from Mexico.  And this mess was created by FDR, the negotiation of the Bracero Program and unregulated illegal immigration from Mexico.

Today, we have the bevy of bad, band-aid legislation that sought to pacify those who looked for a way to curb illegal immigration.  It is obvious to everyone that the past 60+ years of American immigration law has been a complete failure.  It has done little more than enable illegal immgration in order to prop up more bad legislation that has tried to prop up American farmers.  It has looked the other way as hordes of immigrants flaut the unenforcable American border laws and then deported people in an unfair system of immigration control that puts citizenship out of the reach of the average Mexican.  Meanwhile, the illegal immigrants continue to come to America, make slave wages and work slave hours and send that money home to Mexico to help their families live good lives, and inject money into a poor economy.  Not only do none of those funds come back to America, but the illegal immigrants continue to receive more and more benefits of being in America including free medical care and education for their children, plus the benefits of the Anchor Baby laws.  The longer a family can stay in America illegally, the more children they will have in America as citizens.  And even if the parents are deported, the children are able to stay and then send money back to their parents in Mexico.  For illegal immigrants, it is a great scenario... and today the United States still has no control over immigration.

So what to do?  If we take our lessons from history, we can see that opening the borders and letting people come in however they want does not end up in a net positive result for America or its people.  We see that closing our borders and attempting to poorly regulate immigration, only results in people doing whatever they have to in order to stay in America and skirt our laws.  What we have never seen is a well designed, comon sense immigration policy that is designed to help intergrate immigrants from all over the world into American society.  We have never seen an easy path to citizenship that not only is attractive to people looking for the "American Dream", but also benefits America with productive workers who pay taxes and contribute by more than the sweat of their backs.

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury which is currently a work in progress.