Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating column about Ben Franklin’s view of America. He quotes from an essay Franklin wrote about Thanksgiving. I have never heard this detail about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s apocryphal. But still, it reminds us of a common confusion and perhaps can give us perspective on other things that make us feel gloomy:
Franklin’s optimism about the American experiment is reflected in an essay he wrote about our first Thanksgiving. The early settlers, “their minds gloomy and discontented,” frequently fasted to seek relief from their distress, he recounted. Just when they were about to declare another day of fasting, “a farmer of plain sense” pointed out that “the inconveniences they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied heaven with their complaints, were not so great.” Instead of another fast, the farmer argued, they should have a feast to give thanks. Writing a century later — in 1785, a period when both the economy and political system looked fragile, rather like the present — Franklin assured his fellow citizens that thanksgiving was still warranted. “Let us take a cool view of the general state of our affairs, and perhaps the prospect will appear less gloomy than has been imagined,” he wrote.