I have been participating elsewhere in a most interesting discussion of the decision of President Obama to omit any reference to God from his Thanksgiving Message. Such an omission is really only proper. Thanksgiving was invented in no small measure to supplant Christmas, and the American Founding Fathers were not Christians. They were Deists, and their position is exemplified by The Jefferson Bible, from which he excised all reference to Christ’s Divinity, Resurrection or miracles.
However, the actual phrase “the separation of Church and State” does not occur in the Constitution. Rather, the First Amendment’s reference to religion was designed to stop Congress, full of Deists as it was, from suppressing the Established Churches of several states, although they all disestablished them of their own volition later on precisely because they had fallen so completely under the Founding Fathers’ influence. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, “of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary”, was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, was ratified unanimously, and specified that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”. Although he attended Episcopalian services with his wife, George Washington did not receive Communion.
It has been suggested that Thanksgiving was a continuation of Puritan and older Harvest Festivals in East Anglia. It was not. Such things did and do go on in Europe, but certainly not among the Puritans. Next, you will be telling me that they believed in religious liberty. Whatever next! The historical facts are as I set them out. As Chesterton said, in America they give thank for the arrival of the Pilgrims, in England we should give thanks for their departure. A good line and one with various truths in it, but the link between Thanksgiving and the Pilgrim Fathers is a piece of fiction - at root, it is a lie. Arguably a harmless lie. But undeniably a lie.
Thanksgiving has been rather successful in supplanting Christmas, being the holiday for which people make a point of returning to their family homes and so forth, because the government of America started out as explicitly anti-Christian and has been terribly effective in de-Christianising its country, despite the First Amendment protections that every state then went on to relinquish voluntarily because they had fallen under the spell of the Founding Fathers.
However, since 1776 predates 1789, the American Republic is not a product of the Revolution, but nevertheless sits under a radically orthodox theological critique, most obviously by reference to pre-Revolutionary traditions of Catholic and Protestant republican thought, on the Catholic side perhaps Venetian, on the Protestant side perhaps Dutch, and on both sides perhaps at cantonal level in Switzerland, where it is possible that such thought might hold sway even now.
There simply were Protestant Dutch Republics before the Revolution. There simply was a Catholic Venetian Republic before the Revolution. There simply were, and there simply are, Protestant and Catholic cantons in Switzerland, predating the Revolution. The literature must be there, for those who can read the languages sufficiently well. Furthermore, there is no shortage of Americans whose ancestors came from the Netherlands or from Italy, and there may well be many who assume from their surnames that their bloodline is German or Italian (or possibly French) when in fact it is Swiss. It is time for a few of them to go looking for these things, with a view to applying them as the radically orthodox theological critique of that pre-Revolutionary creation, the American Republic.
Within that wider context, far more Jacobites went into exile from these Islands than Huguenots sought refuge here. The Jacobites founded the Russian Navy of Peter the Great. They maintained a network of merchants in the ports circling the Continent. Their banking dynasties had branches in several great European cities. They introduced much new science and technology to their host countries. They dominated the Swedish East India and Madagascar Companies. They fought with the French in India. And very many of them ended up either in the West Indies or in North America.
New York seems the most obvious place to look for them, being named after its initial proprietor as a colony, the future James VII and II. However, there were many Jacobite Congregationalists, such as Edward Roberts, the exiled James’s emissary to the anti-Williamite Dutch republics, and Edward Nosworthy, a gentleman of his Privy Council both before and after 1688. There was that Catholic enclave, Maryland. And there was Pennsylvania: almost, if almost, all of the Quakers were at least initially Jacobites, and William Penn himself was arrested for Jacobitism four times between 1689 and 1691.
Many Baptists were also Jacobites, and the name, episcopal succession and several other features of the American Episcopal Church derive, not from the Church of England, but from the staunchly Jacobite Episcopal Church in Scotland, which provided the American Colonies with a bishop, Samuel Seabury, in defiance of the Church of England and of the Hanoverian monarchy to which it was attached.
Early Methodists were regularly accused of Jacobitism. John Wesley himself had been a High Church missionary in America, and Methodism was initially an outgrowth of pre-Tractarian, often at least sentimentally Jacobite, High Churchmanship. Very many people conformed to the Established Church but either refused to take the Oath or declared that they would so refuse if called upon to take it. With its anti-Calvinist soteriology, it high sacramentalism and Eucharistic theology, and its hymnody based on the liturgical year, early Methodism appealed to them.
So the redemption of the American republican experiment, of which Thanksgiving is one of the great popular expressions, is clearly possible. But only by looking beyond the Founding Fathers and by submitting them, whatever the consequences, to what lies in that Great Beyond.