Stephen L. Carter (Yale), The Thanksgiving Address America Needs to Hear:
As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in our angry and divided country, let us travel back 150 years, to the Thanksgiving of 1868, a time when the country was far angrier and more divided. Just three years had passed since the end of the Civil War, and resentments still smoldered. The Pulaski Riot in Tennessee and the Camilla Massacre in Georgia were fresh in the nation’s memory. In the victorious North, meanwhile, anti-immigrant sentiment was rising.
That’s what makes the Thanksgiving address of a certain Dr. Marcus Jastrow, rabbi of Philadelphia’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom, so extraordinary. His stirring message still resonates, and if we take it seriously, we will be the better for it.
Jastrow took as his text the 100th Psalm ...
[Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.]
which he interpreted as a call for national unity:
The principle of freedom and equality to all, the principle on which American institutions are based, calls upon every American to obliterate all differences, both political as well as religious, at the moment of celebrating a national idea. ...
Before God, the Creator of us all, there is no difference between man and man, and so it ought to be among mankind. You have no right to establish a discrimination between the children of the same Father – you have no right to assign the country to one faith or one sect, for it is God that made us; it is He that made this nation and enabled it to erect its government of freedom. ...
Therefore, remember thy origin, O! American people, remember that it was the banner of freedom and equality to all, inscribed with the idea that the Creator has made all men equal and endowed them with inalienable rights, remember that it was the banner of freedom and equality to all under which God gave thee victory and success! Be cautious and never change this universal banner into an exclusive one! ...
Remember that we are all His people and the flock of His pasture; and all who dwell on the fields of this country have the same rights to its rich pasture, consisting not alone in the material food it gives to its inhabitants, but far more in the sweet satisfaction and happiness of mind, which this great country with its free institutions offers to the poorest as well as to the richest of its children, to the exclusion of none.
That’s the phrase we should perhaps remember the best: “to the exclusion of none.” As we gather around the table with family and friends a century and a half after Jastrow’s wise words, let’s try to remember that we’re a nation of everybody.
(Hat Tip: Bob Cochran.)