November 1869, in the first year of the Grant administration — and Nast put aside his own prejudices enough to invite the Irish guy to dinner, along with many others. (Nast tended not to like Catholics, and especially Irish Catholics.)
In a nation whose emotions are raw from a divisive election, a year of protest for the right to live, a year of deadly plague, unwarranted, horrifying assaults on police officers, not to mention daily horrors reported from Venezuela, Central America, East Timor and Indonesian New Guinea, Syria and the Middle East, could there be a better or more timely reminder of what we’re supposed to be doing?
A Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition: Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving. History teachers should use the image — and if you’re teaching history at home to students working hard to avoid getting ill, you should use it, too.
(Click for a larger image — it’s well worth it.)
“Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner” marks the highpoint of Nast’s Reconstruction-era idealism. By November 1869 the Fourteenth Amendment, which secures equal rights and citizenship to all Americans, was ratified. Congress had sent the Fifteenth Amendment, which forbade racial discrimination in voting rights, to the states and its ratification appeared certain. Although the Republican Party had absorbed a strong nativist element in the 1850s, its commitment to equality seemed to overshadow lingering nativism, a policy of protecting the interests of indigenous residents against immigrants. Two national symbols, Uncle Sam and Columbia, host all the peoples of the world who have been attracted to the United States by its promise of self-government and democracy. Germans, African Americans, Chinese, Native Americans, Germans, French, Spaniards: “Come one, come all,” Nast cheers at the lower left corner.
One of my Chinese students identified the Oriental woman as Japanese, saying it was “obvious.” Other friends say both are Chinese. Regional differences. The figure at the farthest right is a slightly cleaned-up version of the near-ape portrayal Nast typically gave Irishmen.
If Nast could put aside his biases to celebrate the potential of unbiased immigration to the U.S. and the society that emerges, maybe we can, too.
Hope your Thanksgiving week is good; hope you have good company and good cheer, turkey or not, traveling or not, company or not. Stay safe. Happy Thanksgiving 2020. And of course, remember to fly your flag!
More: Earlier posts from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub
- Fly your flag for Thanksgiving 2016
- “Round-up of Thanksgiving Op-eds,” 2008
- “Thanksgiving 2008: Fly your flag” (some history of the holiday here)
- Original from 2006: “Texas claim on Thanksgiving” (Patricia Burroughs, are you still defending Texas’s claim to the first Thanksgiving?
- The Mayflower Compact and explanation
- “Geography Lesson,” note that the Farm School blog was on the way to find Thanksgiving in New York City — lots of resources for teachers
- Thanksgiving 2012 – Fly your flag
And in 2013:
- Celebrating Thanksgiving: two coasts – two interpretations! (thomasnastcartoons.wordpress.com)
- Will the real Uncle Sam stand up! (timesunion.com)
- What Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Picture’s Really About (bigthink.com)
- Uncle Sam, ain’t need Education (adamthung.wordpress.com)