Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pardoning The Turkey

In the wise words of Chesterton:

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England. I know that this is still regarded as a historical heresy, by those who have long ceased to worry about a religious heresy. For while these persons still insist that the Pilgrim Fathers were champions of religious liberty, nothing is more certain than the fact that an ordinary modern liberal, sailing with them, would have found no liberty, and would have intensely disliked all that he found of religion.

Even Thanksgiving Day itself, though it is now kept in a most kindly and charming fashion by numbers of quite liberal and large-minded Americans, was originally intended, I believe, as a sort of iconoclastic expedient for destroying the celebration of Christmas. The Puritans everywhere had a curious and rabid dislike of Christmas; which does not encourage me, for one, to develop a special and spiritual fervour for Puritanism. Oddly enough, however, the Puritan tradition in America has often celebrated Thanksgiving Day by often eliminating the Christmas Pudding, but preserving the Christmas Turkey. I do not know why, unless the name of Turkey reminded them of the Prophet of Islam, who was also the first Prophet of Prohibition.

The first two sentences make for 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, it is a harmless lie. But it is undeniably a lie.

The celebration of the Puritans, of all people, as heroes of the cause of freedom of conscience, of all things, is about as ridiculous an event as it is possible to imagine. Come back on 30th January for something at least in that vein. But the introduction of a late November holiday, before which there is no Christmas shopping (or, indeed, Christmas anything else), is an excellent idea. That holiday should, of course, be 30th November, Saint Andrew’s Day. Meaning, of course, that there would also have to be public holidays on Saint George’s Day, Saint David’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. And when are these islands lovelier than in the spring? The room could easily be found by abolishing our pointless celebrations of the mere fact that the banks are on holiday.

That said, the likes of Wal-Mart, Sears and Toys R Us are now open for at least part of Thanksgiving Day. One may only hope that no customers will present themselves, so that this monstrous innovation will be discontinued. Public holidays that exclude the public by compelling lowly shop assistants, delivery drivers and such like to work are a British thing, due to our unique penchant for holidays that commemorate nothing. Not Patron Saints. Not great historical events. Nothing.

But then, 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; copies were presented to all incoming members of Congress until the 1950s.

However, the 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 is sometimes 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 set out here. 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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The one man Chesterbelloc of the twenty-first century.