Thanksgiving – What does it truly mean?

Many people believe that if you want to see gambling in the United States, you need to visit Atlantic City or Las Vegas.  But the biggest place of gambling in the US happened in 1775 in Philadelphia, PA. Even gambling online with Intertops Casino Red cannot compare to the gambling that took place at that time, in that city.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  Thanksgiving became an official holiday in 1863, during the American Civil War.  Some people believe that we should not celebrate Thanksgiving, because “We should be thankful every day.  Not just one day a year.” Other people say we should not celebrate Thanksgiving, because the US has a stained history: slavery, how we treated Native Americans, how we treated the Japanese during WWII, etc.  But for myself, Thanksgiving is a day to think about what it means to be an American, self-evaluation of the country — the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Philadelphia, PA – the historic Old City

I lived in Philadelphia, PA on and off for almost 10 years.  There was a period of time where I lived in the Old City. This was before 9/11 and the metal detectors at Philadelphia’s historical sites.  Every single day, as I walked to and from work, I would pass the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House, and Ben Franklin’s Court.  It was the old mixed with the new. Every street you walked down, you would see history.  

As a tourist, I would recommend to either take a walking tour or take a horse and buggy tour.  Don’t take a bus tour or try to drive around in your car. You will miss too much of it. You will miss the cobblestone streets or the wooden shutters on the building or even the mirror on the 2nd-floor windows.  When you walk around in the old city or take a horse and buggy tour, you physically go into another time period. But before you take a physical tour of a historical city, like Philadelphia, PA, you need to take a mental tour as well.

Your Trip Before Your Trip to Philadelphia, PA

To truly understand and experience what you are seeing in Philadelphia, you have to be able to put what you see into historical context.  Otherwise, it will just be just a bunch of old buildings.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall.  The Americans were in the middle of a war with England. Some were fighting for better conditions under England’s ruling King.  Others were fighting to form a newly independent nation from England.

Movie: 1776

The movie 1776 is a musical that talks about the period of time right before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Although it is a musical, the facts in the movie are historically accurate.  

The movie gives personality to the “Founding Fathers” of the United States, and provides details to what was included and not included, and why, in that historical document.

The movie starts out with the custodian looking for John Adams to tell him that an important vote is about to take place:

Adams (from Masscusettes): What burning issue are we voting on this time?

Custodian: On whether or not to grant General Washington’s request that the militia of Rhode Island be required to wear matching uniforms.

Adams: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace.  Two are called a law firm. And three or more become a congress.

[Gee, this sounds familiar … however much we change … however much we stay the same]

Adams: For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes, Stamps Act, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts.  And when we dared stand up like men they stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our blood. And still, this Congress refuses to grant my proposals for Independence even so much as the courtesy of open debate. 

The movie continues until it gets to the vote for Independence.

Hancock (President of Congress): All in favor of the resolution on Independence …

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania moves that any vote in favor of independence must be unanimous.  

Adams: No vote has ever been unanimous.

Pennsylvania: Yes, but this one must be.

Adams: On what grounds?

Pennsylvania: That no colony be torn from its mother country without its own consent.

Adams: But it will never be unanimous.

Pennsylvania: If you say so, Mr. Adams.

Custodian: Six colonies say, Yea.  Six colonies say, Nay. New York abstains.

Hancock: The principles of independence have no greater advocate in Congress than its President and that is why I must join those who vote for unanimity.

Adams: What are you doing? You’ve sunk us.

Hancock: Hear me out.  Don’t you see that any colony who opposes independence will be forced to fight on the side of England? That we’ll be setting brother against brother.  That our new nation will carry on its emblem the mark of Cain. I can see no other way. Either we all walk together or together we must stay where we are.

Then we find out why the Declaration of Independence was really written:

Adams: I move for a postponement.

Hancock: On what grounds?

Adams: Mr. President, how can this Congress vote on independence without a written declaration of some sort defining it?  List the reasons for separation, our purposes, our goals, so forth, and so on.

Hancock:  We know those, don’t we.

Adams: Oh yes, we know them.  But what about the rest of the world?  Certainly, we require the assistance of a powerful nation such as France or Spain and such a written declaration would be consistent with European delicacy.  

Pennsylvania: Come, Mr. Adams, you can do better than that.

Jefferson (writer of the Declaration of Independence): To place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command assent.  

Pennslyvania:  Mr. Jefferson, are you seriously suggesting that we publish a paper declaring to the world that an illegal rebellion is, in reality, a legal one?

Franklin:  Mr. Dickens, I’m surprised at you.  You should know that the rebellion is always legal in the first person, our rebellion.  It’s only illegal in the third person … their rebellion … that it is illegal.

In other words, the Declaration of Independence was a stall tactic used by Adams in order to gain more time in order to obtain a unanimous vote on the issue of Independence.

The movie continues to talk about exactly how this first Congress was able to get a unanimous vote.  

Some colonies were convinced due to logic and common sense.  Others came on board due to compromise.

And then come the details of the Declaration of Independence.

Dickens (Pennsylvania): Are we not free, Mr. Jefferson?

Jefferson: Homes entered without a warrant.  Citizens arrested without charge. And in many places, the free assembly itself denied.  

Dickens: No one approves of such things, but these are dangerous times.  

Franklin (key, kite, and electricity – inventor of the stove): Be careful, Mr. Dickens.  Those who’d give up some liberty in order to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.  

Adams: We have been there for three full days.  We have endured, by my count, 85 separate changes and close to the removal of 400 words.  

Rutledge (South Carolina): Read again a small portion of Mr. Jefferson’s declaration.  The one beginning “He has waged cruel war.”

Mr. Thompson [reader]: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself in the persons of a distant people who never offended him captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold.”

Rutledge:  Mr. Jefferson, I can’t quite make out what it is you’re talking about.  

Jefferson:  Slavery, Mr. Rugledge.

Rutledge:  Oh, yes.  You’re referring to us as slaves of the king.

Jefferson:  No sir.  I am referring to our slaves.  Black slaves.

Rutledge:  Black slaves.  Why didn’t you say so? Were you trying to hide your meaning?

Jefferson:  No sir.

Rutledge:  To us in South Carolina, black slavery is our peculiar institution and a cherished way of life.

Jefferson: Nevertheless, we must abolish it.

The debate about slavery continues.

Jefferson does not budge, the South leaves, there is no Declaration of Independence … and there is no future United States of America.

Franklin:  The vote is tomorrow.  We have no choice, John.  The slavery clause has got to go.

Adams: Franklin, what are you saying?

Franklin: It’s a luxury we can’t afford.

Adams:  A luxury?  A half a million souls in chains and Dr. Franklin calls it a luxury.  

Franklin: The issue here is independence.  Perhaps you have forgotten that fact, but I have not.  How dare you jeopardize our cause when we’ve come so far!

Franklin: It’s never been done before.  No colony has ever broken from the parent stem in the history of the world.  We’ve spawned a new race here. Rougher, simpler, more violent, more enterprising, less refined.  

The next day, the final vote takes place.

South Carolina’s time to vote.

Rutledge: Well, Mr. Adams?

Adams: Well, Mr. Rutledge? 

Rutledge:  You must believe that I will do what I promised to do.  

Adams:  What is it you want?

Rutledge: Remove the offending passage from your declaration.

Adams: If we did that, we would be guilty of what we ourselves are rebelling against.

Rutledge: Nevertheless, remove it or South Carolina will bury now and forever your dream of independence.

Franklin: John, I beg you.  Consider what you are doing.

Adams: If we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us.

Franklin: That is probably true, but we won’t hear a thing.  We’ll be long gone. Besides, what will posterity think we are?  Demigods? We’re men. No more, no less. Trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.  First things first, John. Independence. America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make? 

The slavery passage is removed from the Declaration of Independence and the document is signed by a unanimous vote.  

Summary

On this Thanksgiving Day, I think about the United States.  I think about the founding of the nation. I think about its history.  I think about its present. I think about its future.

The original makers of the United States were not Gods.  They were men, and we can look back at that time period and point to mistakes that they made.  We can stand on our high ground and claim that “They should have known better. They should have done better.”

But when we look at the events happening today with the current impeachment of President Trump are we any better?  How are the citizens of the US going to look at these events in 250 years?

I can look back to the period of 1776 and talk about things that the First Continental Congress did wrong.  But the one thing that they did correctly was requiring a unanimous vote in order to remove King George from power — “Because no colony should be torn from their leader without their consent”.

The US has elections for President every 4 years.  The President is limited to serving 2 terms or at most 10 years.  The US government has a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch of government from becoming too powerful.

But in viewing the events regarding impeachment (now and in the past), I think that the framers of the US Constitution were wrong.

Impeachment, removing a President of the United States against the will of the people, the voters, should only happen by a unanimous vote of every single state — the conditions that were set with the original signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The current system of only requiring a simple majority in the House of Representatives in order to Impeach a President, especially when elections are less than a year away, becomes too easy to turn into a political weapon.

The First Continental Congress was right.  No citizen should be forcibly torn away from their leader without the unanimous consent of all the states.

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