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It’s the 400th Anniversary of the First Thanksgiving. Here’s Why We Still Celebrate.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims gathered for the first Thanksgiving in the New World. Today, 400 years later, Americans all over the country came together to honor the occasion. It’s a classic American tradition. And it’s one we must never lose sight of.


The Pilgrims had good reason to celebrate that autumn. Blown hundreds of miles from their intended destination of Virginia, they had endured a brutal Massachusetts winter. Starvation, illness, and exposure took the lives of half their group. At one point, only seven people were healthy enough to care for the sick. Two fires within one month partially destroyed their shelter and some of their supplies. Still, against the odds, they managed to survive. It was with genuine gratitude that Plymouth Governor William Bradford urged his fellow settlers to “render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

But as thankful as they were for physical provisions, the Pilgrims were also deeply grateful for spiritual freedom. They’d undertaken their journey “for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith.” And as Bradford said in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, the Lord “granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.” The Pilgrims' faith was not only their motivation for coming to America; it sustained them through their bleakest days.

The Pilgrims’ convictions became the guiding principles of the Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower Compact, which the passengers signed before setting foot in the New World, was a bold expression of self-government, rule of law, and consent of the governed. The Pilgrims pledged to “enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers.” It was the first venture into ordered liberty and self-government in the New World. 


These ideas sparked the spirit of liberty that our Founding Fathers fanned into a flame more than 150 years later. America has become the freest, most influential, most prosperous nation in history thanks to the heritage of faith and freedom the Pilgrims established. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

In recent years, however, the Pilgrims have come into the crosshairs of progressive efforts to rewrite history. The infamous 1619 Project, for instance, seeks to “reframe” the founding of America not with the Mayflower’s landing in 1620 or the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but rather with the arrival of the first slaves in North America. Racism, they claim, is so deeply woven into our society that America must be torn down and rebuilt. That narrative has long been taught in some academic institutions and is now openly being pushed at every level of our education system through Critical Race Theory. It’s no wonder some of our youth topple statues of American heroes and burn our flag in the streets. 

But this is a corruption of the truth. It robs young Americans of the full history of this country, both the good and the bad. It cheats them of the right to take pride in their nation and in calling themselves Americans. We must reject this divisive narrative. As citizens, we love our country for the groundbreaking ideals that set it apart.


Thanksgiving is a day to commemorate the beginning of our exceptional nation. The 102 men, women, and children who arrived in Plymouth represent the best of America. They were courageous, hardy, and tenacious. They were visionaries. They were people of faith. The Pilgrims were so committed to their convictions that they left behind their homes and families to venture into the unknown. In the process, they laid the groundwork for this great country—the blessings of which we still reap today.

That’s something truly worth celebrating.

Ronna McDaniel is the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Follow her on Twitter @GOPChairwoman.

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