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Ben Franklin's Politically Incorrect Thanksgiving

Human Events | November 23 2005

Did you know that the day we celebrate as Thanksgiving was supposed to be a fast?

It took one politically incorrect farmer to change the course of history. When the government tried to impose a fast, he called for a grand feast—thanksgivings—so that Americans could celebrate their bounty and nourish their bodies, not lament their hardships through hunger.

Ben Franklin’s tale of the first Thanksgiving is revealed in a soon-to-be-released book, The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin, edited by Franklin descendent Mark Skousen, a professor at Columbia University.


The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin takes up where Franklin's original autobiography left off—in 1757. This new volume covers Franklin's final 33 years, including some of the most important in our nation's history.

"The Real Story of the First Thanksgiving," as told by Franklin himself (below), is just one of the many topics covered in The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin.

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The Real Story of the First Thanksgiving
By Benjamin Franklin (1785)

“There is a tradition that in the planting of New England, the first settlers met with many difficulties and hardships, as is generally the case when a civiliz’d people attempt to establish themselves in a wilderness country. Being so piously dispos’d, they sought relief from heaven by laying their wants and distresses before the Lord in frequent set days of fasting and prayer. Constant meditation and discourse on these subjects kept their minds gloomy and discontented, and like the children of Israel there were many dispos’d to return to the Egypt which persecution had induc’d them to abandon.

“At length, when it was proposed in the Assembly to proclaim another fast, a farmer of plain sense rose and remark’d that the inconveniences they suffer’d, and concerning which they had so often weary’d heaven with their complaints, were not so great as they might have expected, and were diminishing every day as the colony strengthen’d; that the earth began to reward their labour and furnish liberally for their subsistence; that their seas and rivers were full of fish, the air sweet, the climate healthy, and above all, they were in the full enjoyment of liberty, civil and religious.

“He therefore thought that reflecting and conversing on these subjects would be more comfortable and lead more to make them contented with their situation; and that it would be more becoming the gratitude they ow’d to the divine being, if instead of a fast they should proclaim a thanksgiving. His advice was taken, and from that day to this, they have in every year observ’d circumstances of public felicity sufficient to furnish employment for a Thanksgiving Day, which is therefore constantly ordered and religiously observed.”

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