November always brings out the historian in me - undoubtedly a result of those Thanksgiving theatricals at my elementary school. The class would dress as Pilgrims; my broad brimmed hat stabilized by a pair of crumpled ears. The routines were more funny than factual but they plowed a furrow of America's history deep into my mind.
And with each November I find myself retracing America's past and always arriving at the same conclusion: America is a miracle, an answer to countless prayers and thankful hearts. There's no other way to explain it.
Don't get me wrong; I don't credit this nation's greatness solely to the Pilgrims - a name given them by William Bradford, quoting from Hebrews 11.13 - even though their prayers, which will always be identified with that original Thanksgiving, certainly played a part.
What makes that first Thanksgiving so memorable is as much about the when as it was the what. Whereas it's true they had enjoyed a bountiful harvest that year, the Pilgrims purposely planned their Thanksgiving of 1621 during an exceedingly disastrous year. It was then that they gave thanks to God.
Pull up a chair and grab your almanac. And once you've found that famous Thanksgiving day, see if you notice the change of fortunes for our nation, and the beginning of the miracle:
- 1609 - Approximately 300 colonists arrived in Jamestown. That winter, because their food supplies were exhausted, 80 percent of the people died from starvation and disease.
- 1620 - 102 Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower and three months later landed at Plymouth. Within the first year, half of them perished.
- 1621 - The Pilgrims dedicated three days for a Thanksgiving Feast to give God glory.
- 1689 - During the next 74 years, four North American wars raged between England and France. The final conflict - the French and Indian War - caused Britain to tighten its grip on the colonies, a major miscalculation that eventually led to the American Revolution.
- 1776 - America declared independence from England. It was David revisiting Goliath. And, without historical precedent, America won its independence, the world's first colony to break away from a parent country.
It had to be a miracle. Even George Washington thought so: "It will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain, after eight years of military employment, could be so baffled in their plans... by men oftentimes half-starved, almost always sick, without pay, and experiencing every distress which the human nature is capable of enduring."
Yet, soon after the war, 400 armed war veterans circled the make-shift congressional building demanding their unpaid back wages. Held hostage, Congress was forced to approve a payment plan - but had no funds to make the plan work.
To make matters worse, the thirteen states turned on each other. States they were, but united they weren't. New Jersey instituted its own customs services. New York negotiated its own foreign treaties. Nine of the thirteen states maintained their own private navies. Seven states printed their own currency - good only within their borders. Many passed tariff laws against the other states.
And yet somehow these colonies, this people, this collection of war-worn Americans became one nation. A nation ruled by the laws of democracy to safeguard the rights of its citizens; the right to worship as we please, the right to speak boldly about the things of God...
It was a miracle. It is a grand land. And, there's much to be thankful for.
Vice President of Church Relations
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Copyright 2007 by Ron Walters