Happy Thanksgiving Day, all!
This November, in the run up to Thanksgiving I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the Founding Fathers. Mainly, what would they make of the State of the Union, with our debt crisis and the Occupy Movement, the people’s response to an alarming shift in our country’s real and virtual fortunes (the erosion of our rights) that not enough people are alarmed enough about.
Some of you who know me know that I’m an Alexander Hamilton buff and that I might have spent lottery winnings going off to get a masters or better to study him and his brethren more formally. But he is a much misunderstood founding father, time has given him a reputation as such a hawkish conservative and nothing else; but he would be horrified at how the Wall Street he invented has become so twisted to serve an oligarchy that puts so many citizens at such risk.
Another thing that strikes me about the founding fathers is how much they wrote. Their lives are incredibly well documented. I know there was no TV or radio then, but these folks were also inventing a new country and running businesses or legal practices and going to church – and yes, some of them managing plantations full of slaves they owned, I know many weren’t at all perfect – and still finding time to write books, essays and volumes of letters back and forth to one another. I think all of them would have been enthusiastic bloggers and today the Federalist Papers would have been a blog for sure with Hamilton and Madison’s goal to crank out and distribute essays every few days to build popular support of the newly penned Constitution. Perhaps there would have been the inevitable poll between the fans of Hamilton’s and Burr’s respective blogs to feel out who was the bad guy in the days leading up to their fatal duel, spawning other duels as well. Okay, perhaps we 21st century Americans have improved somewhat in some areas in that we are not threatening to shoot people who criticize us or insult us, though a formal return to a more universally accepted sense of honor would be nice if it came without the cost of having to back it up with pistols at ten paces.
Hey, wait, this post isn’t about food! Correct. There is so much being written about today’s dinner in other formats that I thought I’d go a bit off topic as Thanksgiving is as much about the symbolic freight of food, the meaning of a festive meal and our connection to how our country’s adventure began in an unspoiled wilderness. Where the point of the holiday should still be finding community, coming through the other side of humility, triumphing over adversity and expressing gratitude in the bounty of the environment and our fellow humans – both those who were ‘our kind’ that we had to depend upon in the face of obliteration and those strange and intimidating ‘others’ who endangered themselves to offer us new ways to eat and survive.
The founding father we associate most with Thanksgiving is Benjamin Franklin, and I want to share a well-known excerpt from the letter he wrote while in France to his daughter Sally in January of 1784, explaining his disappointment that the eagle had been chosen as the symbol of our country:
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
Do our symbols define us? Has our proverbial poultry come home to roost? I wish that we may all be thoughtful as well as thankful this Thanksgiving, and inspired in the days that follow to be prolific and a little more courageous. And, at the risk of jumping the gun with a Dickensian Christmas wish, may God Bless us, everyone.