From the Left



At Thanksgiving, Democracy on the Table

Jamie Stiehm on

Thanksgiving is all about saving the Union from forces that almost destroyed it. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday in 1863, midway through the benighted Civil War.

November defines turning points in the most tragic hours of history.

Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address on the battlefield of that great war on Nov. 19, 1863, once the cannonballs were silenced and the dead buried. Gen. Robert E. Lee's cocky rebel army was depleted. For the Civil War president, victory at Gettysburg was the beginning of the end.

Now as we pilgrims feast in 2021, that meaning remains clear as day. There is a sense of huge losses and precious gains at our shared tables. It's fair to say we civilians felt besieged as if at war.

This Thursday in November, we're still in the grip of a global pandemic. We're also haunted by the sixth day of this year. The body politic is scarred from a civil war waged within, a violent blow to American democracy by a mob incited by a president.

I was there, but in a larger sense all who love democracy were inside its citadel. The coup failed, but believe me, it was a close call.


By proclamation from war-torn Washington, the first national Thanksgiving (a New England tradition) was marked in November 1863. Lincoln was grateful to providence -- and perhaps Gen. George Meade -- for winning the Battle of Gettysburg in July. By the Fourth, the smoke cleared.

That narrow win over Lee was the catalyst for celebrating the autumn holiday and the greatest piece of presidential prose. In five elegiac minutes, Lincoln stood and redefined the raging war.

Suddenly, the meaning was "a new birth of freedom" from slavery. For Lincoln himself was profoundly changed.

His battlefield utterance went beyond the Union map to the meaning of the "unfinished work" of freedom. Standing on the ground of enormous human suffering, in the crucible of war, he honored the dead and inspired the living.


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Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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