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November 20, 2017 12:34 pm
This week on Family Policy Matters, NC Family President John L. Rustin speaks with Dr. Bradley Birzer, a Professor of History and the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies at Hillsdale College, co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative, and Fellow of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. They discuss the origins and importance of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Why don't we get together and we celebrate, we share things and we see a kind of common entity there. That's quite beautiful celebration.
This is only policy with NC family Pres. John Rustin thanks for joining us this week for family policy matters.
Today we will be reflecting on one of the most quintessential American holidays Thanksgiving and will be discussing the origins and importance of this national holiday with one of America's top historical scholars.
Dr. Bradley Burger of Hillsdale College. Dr. Burger is a professor of history and the Russell Amos Kirk here in American studies at Hillsdale College, cofounder of the imaginative conservative and fellow of the Ronald Reagan presidential library. Dr. Bradley Burger. I want to welcome you to family policy matters. It's great to have you on the show things up for Glenda Beard. Now Dr. Burger ordination has a long history of giving corporate thanks to God for the abundant blessings we have enjoyed a dating back to some of the earliest explorers and colonists based on your research and study what his gratitude in the sense of Thanksgiving in such a constant in our nations history.the great question and there's no doubt that a lot of it's good you just said comes from the explorers was always interesting when we think about someone like Christopher Columbus when you arrive in the fall of 1492 the very first thing he did with the master said at the moment the ships arrived and it didn't matter, Catholics or Protestants, there was always this kind of sense after the long journey across the ocean and not really going to be there that just having landfall after being on the ocean for so long that there was a sense of just Thanksgiving just to have something stable under your feet so we know of course that our Thanksgiving celebration had its own roots. Not one to the X but in the very Calvinist tradition of the New England Puritans pilgrims when they arrived in 1620. So that idea of giving thanks is really deeply rooted in the Western Christian tradition and so it's connected I would say very intimately with the idea these days as well as bath days.
Thanksgiving is obviously one of those days not weeks that were we pleased.
And so it's a cornucopia because were looking at the created goods that God has given us and were celebrating that and giving thanks. Not just for the created goods, but obviously pretty author gives those goods toward God himself thinks now I'm sure most of us remember some sort of play or craft an elementary school commemorating the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Indians in Plymouth. How accurate is that now almost mythological photo of the first Thanksgiving and why is it important to the character of our celebrations today at such a great question and I got I got six kids younger. My youngest is that and of course I've seen them all go through that. I remember very well. I think it's a great healthy thing for kids. There is nothing personal actually do think it's fairly historically accurate and immediately enough that if any of your viewers watch the peanuts Thanksgiving specialů What about Charlie Brown but where they actually reenact the coming over on the Mayflower is increasingly well done cartoon very historically accurate but just that idea of kind of mutual discovery. It's not it's not an idea conquest.
It's not your Europeans to take over the land. There is a sense of religiosity and Thanksgiving. There is a brotherhood between men of different races with the Indians. The pilgrims coming together, all of which was very true so I think it celebrate the deftly tells a particular story, but it certainly not all story and it's a story that I think is one we could all benefit from lining ourselves up from time to time that quite often. As humans we don't what we get together and we celebrate, we share things and we see a kind of common humanity there. That's quite beautiful and that celebration now it is. I understand that some early opponents worried that an annual Thanksgiving celebration might contribute to people taking God's generosity for granted what is that and do you see any validity to those concerns. All absolutely, I think, like all good things of the world.
We can always pervert.
We can only we could mock them forget that we can distort them. So of course there's nothing wrong with Thanksgiving things a good thing but we crave humans with our free will often make very poor decisions and we can use it to make money or power gain power will do that. Unfortunately we have to keep a constant check on that family, which is a fact of the human condition.
Sure since football been doing that but I also think what you're asking Elise as I see it is this question about what Thanksgiving do we celebrate so you'll notice you guys are in North Carolina I'm speaking there from Michigan.
It was very interesting that we all celebrated Thanksgiving that is deeply rooted in one tiny part of Massachusetts of New England. So when when one day you will not pay my Spanish is terrible but when one day on yacht date team into El Paso and what's now Texas in 1598. He also held huge Thanksgiving celebration, but none of us pattern our Thanksgiving celebration after Work were eating turkey cranberry squash, pumpkin all the kinds of things that are native to the region one specific area of New England so I think that's the interesting thing that we chosen to take one Thanksgiving out of thousand and make that the one there was a lot again you coming from North Carolina. There was a lot of concern for quite a while that what we were doing in America was giving a very very new England look at at Thanksgiving and ignoring other regions and not taking into account what their regional traditions would be and I think that's where a lot of this fear will worship falsely or we can do both things a lot probably is rooted in culture as it is a mess. When was the Thanksgiving holiday officially established in our nation and what were the circumstances around that particular proclamation, so there is been a tradition New England going back. Certainly, since the 1620s.
In doing this. It was very much a part of the Calvinist religion that you would have Thanksgiving even though the Protestants are obviously not Catholics, and Catholics are constantly having feast. In past days. It didn't transfer exactly the product but it did transfer and so it was not a typical to have a Thanksgiving feast to have a celebration but it really wasn't.
And this is where you start getting into some kind of fascinating but crazy history.
It really wasn't until about the 1790s that New England historian started promoting the story of Thanksgiving. He also the story of John Adams comes out of this as well, kind of promoting them above other founding fathers even change the name of what we call the Mayflower compact is its original name was Plymouth combination, but New England historians in the 1790s.that might seem too religious so they renamed it the Mayflower compact to make it some more Lockean so there's a huge movement in the 1790s to kind of picking up a term here, but the kind of New England dies America in the founding of the colonial period and so you got that great rivalry between New England and Virginia and of course with the Civil War.
The New England UN and Lincoln is the first to make Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday and he very clearly and intentionally choose a Massachusetts holiday in a Massachusetts version because the Thanksgiving they're giving is a Thanksgiving that's rooted in Plymouth Rock. Not in the soil of Virginia you're listening to a resource to listen to our radio show online resources have a place of persuasion in your community website collecting Dr. Burger from your perspective as an American historian. What is one of the most compelling Thanksgiving proclamations made by an American president while while I certainly I don't want to sound anti-Lincoln.
I'm not at all.
I think of the Civil War is one of those moments where you got nobility gunboats so much going on hugely message tragic romantic moment in American history. So I think it would be hard not to look at Lincoln Thanksgiving proclamation where even though it may be trying to privilege nor it really is ultimately about a kind of unification and so I would be hard to top that one simply because not only is it really the beginning of our modern Thanksgiving, but it it was happening at a time with so much bloodshed and division. I think Lincoln was trying hard in his own way, and of course there is own failures but also his successes trying to kind of bring us together so that that thing sitting proclamation is brilliant but I would also go back to some of the Thanksgiving proclamations that were given by the second Continental Congress, the gorgeous going back to the American Revolution so that it's been a nice tradition and I think it's one that our presidents are leaders usually done well with Dr. Burger for many in our culture. The focus of Thanksgiving and you can refer to this already but it seems to have shifted from a time of slowing down and gathering with family and friends, and prayerfully considering how much we have to be thankful for. To this frantic Black Friday launch of holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving, which then leads into an increasingly commercialized Christmas season and so on and so forth. In your mind what does this say about our American society today and how might you encourage the listeners of this program to maybe unplug a little bit and get back to more of the roots of what Thanksgiving is intended to be such a good question. And of course I can offer my opinion. I was a little conflicted because I'm very very very pro-free-market libertarian when it comes to market economics, but I'm also my family and I were practicing Christian. And so it's very frustrating to see where I think sometimes we abuse our freedom and I you I would give. I would make it legal but I love what Chick-fil-A does, by giving no work on Sundays yet. That to me is just a model of where we should be. I'm so sorry that Chick-fil-A is such a small part of our American capitalist culture to me. That freedom is not just to do.
We want freedom is also the ability to restrain ourselves. And so I understand that there are great deals on Black Friday. A lot of our businesses make a lot of money but you know it is. It is frustrating and obviously speaking very personally here, but I would like a holiday to truly be a holiday, a day of rest, a day to think of what is holy to think of what is good to be with family and I guess I prefer that you getting up at three in the morning and heading off to our local box store to get the greatest deal, but it's just it's one of the downsides of a free society where those things if we want freedom, we kinda have to put up with, but always remembering that we also have the freedom to restrain ourselves and you will write as well.
That's a great reminder and a great note to end on a think of our discussion today.
I would just encourage your listeners to really try to take a step back and unplug a bit this year and really consider the importance in the historical significance of Thanksgiving in our culture, but also the importance of setting this Thomas for family and to ultimately thank God for all the ways that he is so blessed us individually, our families and our nation and without Dr. Burger. I want to thank you so much for being with us on family policy matters, but I do want to give you an opportunity to tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving and your other work at Hillsdale College all things yeah you I would encourage from my own perspective. This is a very Hillsdale Lancer cruise all of your listeners just to go back and read the Mayflower compact, it is what short you can read it in about two minutes. We try to read it in my family and it's one of those things that I think it doesn't matter if you're Catholic or Protestant unit or secular, there is such a power in that one paragraph where you have all of these people on the deck of the Mayflower covenant thing with one another and saying we can rule ourselves because we have two things number one we have Scripture and number two, we have English common law and that's all we need. That is, to me, one of the most powerful statement in all of the street so that you'll you want to ask why do things getting better because these are group of women and men who came together and said we can make this work and they did half of them died the first year, but they did also be make it work and it's just it's hard to get our day and age were so dependent on other people doing wrong. I think sometimes hard for us to imagine that God is great so much that we ourselves can make our own unity and make it work and that that's what will it absolutely is a blessing and without Dr. Burger want to thank you so much for being with us on family policy matters and for sharing your valuable insights with us and I was sitting to family policy matters production to listen to a show online resources and information about issues important website family.org follow us on Twitter and Facebook