In the early 1600s, a group of people called Pilgrims left England to find a new home where they could practice their religion freely. In England, everyone who was not members of the Church of England (or, Anglicans) was persecuted. The Pilgrims were not Anglicans. They went to Holland, where there was religious freedom.
In Holland, the Pilgrims could practice their religion freely, however, they were not happy. Their children were learning to speak Dutch, practice Dutch customs, and were losing their English culture. Also, in England, the Pilgrims had been farmers. In Holland, they lived in the cities. Because of these reasons, the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland.
After returning to England for a short time, the Pilgrims left for America in 1620. After traveling 65 days, they landed their ship, The Mayflower, in the New World. Before stepping ashore, they wrote The Mayflower Compact, a short paper declaring every person’s intention to glorify God, follow the laws, and to honor the King of England. 102 English citizens set foot in America and founded Plymouth, in present-day Massachusetts. The Pilgrims stayed on their ship until homes could be built out of the wood from the forest.
The first year was incredibly harsh for the Pilgrims. Of the 102, 45 people died during a few months. Of the eighteen women, only four survived that first year. The Pilgrims were unaccustomed to the harsh winters of the Northeast, and did not know which crops grew best.
One day in Spring, an Indian walked up to the Pilgrims, and to their surprise, spoke English and befriended the Europeans. Samoset had learned English from English fishermen in North America. Samoset brought his friend, Squanto, and they taught the Pilgrims what crops to grow and how to use fish as a fertilizer. Squanto had been previously captured and made a slave by the English before retaining his freedom.
In the fall, the Pilgrims, a very religious people, decided to set aside a time to honor God and give him thanks for all of their blessings. It is amazing to think of the faith, courage, and humility of these people. In a year, half of them had died in a cold and cruel climate. They were far from their friends and comforts. And still, they wanted to have a number of days set aside to give God thanks for their blessings. They invited their neighbors, the Indians, to show them thanks for their help, and to include them in their feast.
The most famous Thanksgiving in America* took place in October 1621, lasted for three days, involved all of the Pilgrims (approximately 50), and 90 Indian men. It is believed the Indian women did not attend because the Indians didn’t trust the Englishmen. During these three days, Indians played competitive games, and the English and Indians shared the best foods together.
A few years later, in 1623, the governor of Massachusetts, William Bradford, wrote America’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation. He set aside a specific day and time for the citizens to honor God for his blessings. Beginning with President George Washington, U.S. Presidents have issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation, as well.
The residents in Massachusetts suffered for many years and the population did not grow rapidly until the company that governed it changed the community's property rights. Initially, Massachusetts' residents were to share property, share work, and share the profits. This arrangement did not work. Some residents did not work hard and received the same as those who worked hard. There was no incentive to toil. Then, the change happened. Citizens of Massachusetts were allowed to own private property and to enjoy the benefits of their hard work. Once this occurred, Massachusetts grew rapidly and became a successful colony.
In 1863, in the middle of the American Civil War, where over 600,000 Americans were killed, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November be set aside as… “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln’s proclamation made Thanksgiving Day a federal holiday.
*The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated by the Spanish in 1555 at St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish landed in St. Augustine, a city they had established, and celebrated their safe journey across the Atlantic, and the birthday of the Virgin Mary, with about 200 Indians, with a Mass and special meal. Although this is the first Thanksgiving in America, the one the Pilgrims celebrated is the one that began the American tradition practiced today.
The Mayflower Compact
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.
From the Wall Street Journal, on Thanksgiving Day, published annually since 1961:
Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford (writing in 1623), sometime governor thereof:
So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.
When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.
The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other's heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.
Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.
Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.
If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.
This editorial has appeared annually since 1961.
The Pilgrim Hall Museum – Primary Sources
PRIMARY SOURCES FOR
"THE FIRST THANKSGIVING"
There are 2 (and only 2) primary sources
for the events of autumn 1621 in Plymouth :
Edward Winslow writing in Mourt's Relation and
William Bradford writing in Of Plymouth Plantation
Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation :
"our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."
In modern spelling
"our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation :
In the original 17th century spelling
"They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports."
In modern spelling
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."
NOTE : The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth in December of 1620. No further ships arrived in Plymouth until immediately after that "First Thanksgiving" - the Fortune arrived in November of 1621. One of the passengers on the Fortune, William Hilton, wrote a letter home that November. Although he was not present at that "First Thanksgiving," he does mention turkeys.
America’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation by Governor Bradford
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
Ye Governor of Ye Colony
Thanksgiving Proclamation of President George Washington
WHEREAS, It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor;
WHEREAS, Both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted' for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
--George Washington - October 3, 1789
President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation That Established the National HolidayWashington, D.C.
October 3, 1863By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln, 1863
President Barack Obama's Thanksgiving Day proclamation as released by the White House, 2011:
One of our nation's oldest and most cherished traditions, Thanksgiving Day brings us closer to our loved ones and invites us to reflect on the blessings that enrich our lives. The observance recalls the celebration of an autumn harvest centuries ago, when the Wampanoag tribe joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony to share in the fruits of a bountiful season. The feast honored the Wampanoag for generously extending their knowledge of local game and agriculture to the Pilgrims, and today we renew our gratitude to all American Indians and Alaska Natives. We take this time to remember the ways that the first Americans have enriched our nation's heritage, from their generosity centuries ago to the everyday contributions they make to all facets of American life. As we come together with friends, family and neighbors to celebrate, let us set aside our daily concerns and give thanks for the providence bestowed upon us.
Though our traditions have evolved, the spirit of grace and humility at the heart of Thanksgiving has persisted through every chapter of our story. When President George Washington proclaimed our country's first Thanksgiving, he praised a generous and knowing God for shepherding our young republic through its uncertain beginnings. Decades later, President Abraham Lincoln looked to the divine to protect those who had known the worst of civil war, and to restore the nation "to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."
In times of adversity and times of plenty, we have lifted our hearts by giving humble thanks for the blessings we have received and for those who bring meaning to our lives. Today, let us offer gratitude to our men and women in uniform for their many sacrifices, and keep in our thoughts the families who save an empty seat at the table for a loved one stationed in harm's way. And as members of our American family make do with less, let us rededicate ourselves to our friends and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand.
As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives. Let us pause to recount the simple gifts that sustain us, and resolve to pay them forward in the year to come.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 24, 2011, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to come together – whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors – to give thanks for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and to share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
BARACK OBAMA, 2011
President Trump's 2019 Proclamation will be posted here....
1. Trace the religious tradition of the Thanksgiving Holiday in America.
a. When did it begin?
b. Where did it begin?
2. Describe the first year of the Pilgrims in America.
3. Which U.S. President officially established the day as a federal holiday?
4. Based on the Pilgrim’s experiences, describe their character.
5. Which of the documents do you find to be most inspiring? Why?
Christmas Sale: 50% Off All Games 11/29 - 12/6
On November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m., fighting in World War I came to a halt. Seven months later, the Treaty of Versailles was signed that ended “The Great War,” also known as “The War to End All Wars.” One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as “Armistice Day.” Armistice means the end of fighting.
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
On June 4, 1919, The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I with these words:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
Originally, Veterans Day was Armistice Day. In 1938, Congress declared that November 11 be set aside for prayer and thanksgiving for the end of World War I. However, after World War II and the Korean War, the U.S. Congress decided to change this day to Veterans Day, thus honoring veterans of all wars.
On October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veteran’s Day Proclamation, which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible."
In 1968, by an act of Congress, Veteran’s Day and three other holidays were moved to Mondays, so Americans could celebrate these days with a three day weekend. Many complained that this took away from the original purpose of the holidays. In 1975, President Ford signed into law to observe Veteran’s Day on November 11, where it is celebrated today.
A poem written by Canadian soldier John McCrae during World War I is often remembered by those studying World War I. Flanders is a town in the country of Belgium. Major John McCrae was a military doctor and artillery commander, and it is believed he wrote this poem after witnessing a friend killed in war and burying him.
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
1. Read out loud the poem, twice.
2. What date is Veteran's day?
3. Why was this particular date chosen for Veteran's Day?
4. What treaty ended World War I?
5. What were the intentions of the U.S. Congress as to how November 11th would be commemorated?
6. When was Armistice Day changed to Veteran's Day? Why?
7. Why did President Ford sign into law to commemorate Veteran's Day on November 11th?
8. What did John McRae write in May 1915?
9. What does "The Dead" urge the living to do in the poem by John McRae?
10. Based on the poem, was John McRae urging others to continue fighting or stop fighting?
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was an explorer, cartographer (map maker), and adventurer from the Republic of Genoa (today it is part of northern Italy). In 1492, he led an expedition from Spain and discovered the islands of the West Indies. He died believing he had found a westerly route to Asia, but in reality he had opened up the continents of North America and South America for European discovery and colonization. Fifty years ago, Americans viewed Columbus as a hero, and schoolchildren across the country had the day off from school. Today, Columbus is honored by students in only a few states, and in many parts of our country he is viewed with great dislike. Columbus Day is celebrated in some places of the United States on the second Monday of October, sometimes falling on the day he discovered America, October 12th, 1492.
In the 1400s, Western Europeans rapidly modernized, experienced a social mobility never before imaginable, developed high forms of art, and used technology in new ways. The Renaissance that had started in Italian city-states had spread north, and throughout Europe there was a sense that the world was waiting to be explored, discovered, conquered and civilized by those who were brave and eager enough. The Renaissance was a time where European artists and intellectuals rediscovered the beauty of the ancient Greek and Roman artists and intellectuals. City-states in Italy grew wealthy from trade with the East through the Mediterranean Sea, and countries in Western Europe wanted to be able to go directly to the East by the ocean, without having to go through the Mediterranean Sea and dealing with middle men. In 1492, the Spanish finally succeeded in liberating Spain from the African Muslims who had controlled them for over 700 years! After this 700 year war, Spain was filled with unbound confidence and believed it was a chosen country to explore, Christianize, and conquer the world.
Ocean travel is challenging, but the European mindset, Spanish confidence, new technology, and vision of Christopher Columbus made such a huge journey possible. Christopher Columbus grew up in the Republic of Genoa. His dream as an adult was to sale west from Europe and go straight to Asia, where he could open up new trade routes with China. Nobody, of course, knew that in between Asia and Europe were the Americas. Nearly all sailors knew that the Earth was round, however, no sailor knew how far the journey from Europe to the next continent was, and there was fear of starving on ship if Asia was not reached. The Asian invention of the astrolabe, an instrument that made travelling at night and away from shore possible, helped sailors like Columbus have greater confidence to sail far away.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, fresh from their victory over the Muslims in 1492, agreed to allow Columbus to use Spanish ships and men to go on his quest. Columbus set out in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. His goals were to find a new trade route to Asia, to find gold and bring it back to Spain, to claim new land for Spain, and to spread Catholic Christianity throughout the world. After approximately 30 days, Columbus found the new land, however, as we know, it was not Asia, it was an island in the Bahamas. Columbus believed he had found India and called the natives “Indians.”
Columbus made four different journeys to the Bahamas, established Spanish forts, was completely unsuccessful in finding any gold, and was arrested by the Spanish for being an incompetent and tyrannical governor of the new lands. Columbus’ men were so intent on finding gold that they mistreated many of the Indians they came into contact with. There are historical accounts of torture and murder by some of Columbus’ men. Columbus was either unable, or unwilling to stop them. The group of Indians Columbus first encountered, the Tainos, were extinct 50 years later. Most Indians who came into contact with the Spanish and other Europeans died from diseases, such as small pox. The natives did not have these diseases, and had no immunity built up against them. The Spanish King and Queen eventually arrested Columbus, had him brought him back in chains, tried him for incompetence and for the cruel treatment some of his men perpetrated against the Indians, and jailed him. In six weeks, the King released him.
Columbus’ legacy in the new world is mixed. He discovered America and opened up new lands for the rest of the world. Before Columbus, Indians in the Americas worshipped many gods, many practiced torture and polygamy, and some practiced cannibalism as a way of life. Europeans who came and eventually settled the Americas brought monotheism, ended polygamy, and brought literacy to the Indians. Eventually, the United States of America was founded, as was all other modern nations of North and South America. Columbus’ discovery of America was the beginning of the founding of these modern nations. Columbus has also been the focus of those who argue that the European conquest of the Americas was an immoral act against the Indians. European disease, such as small pox, is believed to have killed up to 90% of the Indian population. And, the superior strength of Europeans meant that it was easier to destroy the Indian culture.
Before the 1960s, American students and historians focused on the positive elements of Columbus’ discovery of America, and all America celebrated him. In 1971, Columbus Day became a federal holiday. After this, however, certain states began to take away the celebration of Columbus. In California, for example, students do not celebrate Columbus Day, and a public school teacher may hear his colleagues berate Christopher Columbus. In New York, however, Columbus is heralded as a hero, and New York City has a huge Columbus Day Parade that involves over 35,000 people every year. Unfortunately, over time, many American students do not even know anything about Christopher Columbus.
Was Columbus a hero or not? That is a great question to ponder on Columbus Day, which is a federal holiday in the United States of America on October 14th, but is celebrated on the second Monday of October. In many states where Columbus Day is not celebrated, students have stopped learning about him altogether.
Great Discussion Questions to Ask Your Kids
1. What did Columbus discover?
2. Who was he sailing for?
3. How did Californians celebrate Columbus in the 1970s?
4. Why do some Americans dislike Columbus today?
5. What is your opinion of Columbus? Was he a great man, a villain, neither? Explain your answer.
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved. #theclassicalhistorian
Labor Day, the first Monday in September
Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is a holiday in honor of the workers of the United States of America. In the 1880s, various states and cities began to celebrate workers with parades. Labor Day is typically a celebration of the average city-worker, and was the culmination of a growing labor movement in American cities. It marked the end of a chiefly agrarian society in America and the beginning of a modern one. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day legislation into law. Contrary to Europe, celebration of the worker in America has primarily supported the free market and has not been a call for Socialism. This fact has its roots in Labor Day.
It is challenging to remember life in the United States before the era of industrialization. 90% of Americans grew up and worked on farms before the second half of the 19th century, and up to World War II, most Americans were farmers. Life on a farm is often glamorized, with romantic visions of beautiful sunsets, sweet-smelling grass and corn, and quiet and peace.
In reality, the workday for the typical farmhand in pre-industrial America was tough and often unpleasant. My Dad, my personal hero, grew up in 1930s and 40s Minnesota, a true Depression-baby farm boy. Starting at the age of 12 until he reached adulthood, he was hired out to a local family each summer to work on their farm. His experience was similar to most boys growing up in farm country, America. He lived in the family’s basement, Monday through Saturday. He awoke before dawn to feed the animals, clean the stalls, and continued to work throughout the day, as long as the sun was up. He did all the work a man would do, from driving tractors to repairing anything that would break. And, his workday was over 12 hours a day. When my Dad earned $1 a day, it was big money. He was able to use his summer earnings to pay for his school clothes, any books, and extra money throughout the school year. He was, in many ways, financially independent as a teenager.
When American society changed from an agrarian society to an industrial one, families faced great challenges, both socially and economically. Whereas before, the family who owned a farm would work altogether, in a city, family members worked in different locations. Where most family farms were independently owned in the 1700s and 1800s, workers in cities didn’t own the businesses they worked in. And, because America was such a huge attraction to foreigners, city life offered a constantly changing society.
In 1800s America, life for a factory worker was challenging. Workers had little or no rights, factories could be physically dangerous, and an evil business owner could get away with horrible acts. Workers could be killed by working in dangerous factories, or they could lose limbs and then be fired from their jobs. Still, the American worker most likely did better than other workers of the world. If this weren’t so, the U.S.A. wouldn’t have been the destination of so many millions of immigrants. The opportunity of America overrode the hardships of life when it came to where people wanted to live. Industrializing America lifted tens of millions out of poverty.
Because of the harsh work conditions, labor leaders sought to gather workers into unions in order to bargain for worker rights. Initially in the United States and elsewhere, there was great opposition to worker rights both by the government and by business owners. Those in power feared that the workers would take away the power, rights, and property of the business owners. In Russia in 1917, a “Workers Party” called the Communists, did take away the property of individuals and went on to be responsible for the murder of tens of millions of Russians who opposed them.
In the U.S.A., however, the labor movement focused on making the lives of workers better by pushing for an 8-hour workday, safer work conditions, and demanding fair treatment of all workers in every situation. In 1894, railway workers in the American Railway Union demanded better work conditions and went on strike against the Pullman Company. During the strike, the U.S. government attempted to crush the strike, as did other worker’s unions. There was violence, and workers died at the hands of government employees. This strike helped Americans realize that working conditions needed to drastically change for factory workers.
President Cleveland and the U.S. Congress initially opposed the strike, but later realized that the workers’ demands were reasonable. The Pullman Company was forced to change in favor of the workers. In 1894, the U.S. government passed a law declaring the first Monday of September a national holiday to honor workers. Today, this holiday is also celebrated as a seasonal event, with families marking it as the end of summer and beginning of fall.
The major labor movements in America remained true to the principles of liberty and respect for private property. Samuel Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor in the 1880s, one of the country’s largest and most important labor unions. As a labor leader, he strongly opposed Socialism and helped the American worker enjoy a quality standard of living without threatening the rights of property owners.
Lesson Ideas for Grades k-5:
1. Ask children to think of all of the occupations, professions, and jobs they can think of. Make a list of them.
2. During dinner, have an adult in your family talk to the children about what he does every day at work and about other jobs he/she had.
Lesson Idea for Grades 6-12:
Direct your children to interview three people (one of them should own his own business) and ask five questions about the work he does. After the three interviews, have your children decide what sounds good about each of the three jobs and what sounds unpleasant. Have a short discussion about what type of work your child could imagine doing.
Here are sample questions for the interview:
a. Can you describe a typical day at work?
b. What is the pay range of someone in your field?
c. What are the highs and lows of your job?
d. What type of education does someone need to have your job?
e. If you could give me one piece of advice regarding my future work, what would it be?
On January 20, 2017, President-Elect Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America. The ceremony where the new president begins his term is called the Inauguration.
Inauguration Day is the federal holiday set aside as the beginning of the new presidential term. The main and only requirement of the day is for the president to take the oath of office, though there are a number of other activities that occur. Originally, Inauguration Day was on March 4th, the day the U.S. Constitution took effect. Since the Twentieth Amendment took effect in 1933, Inauguration Day has been January 20th or 21st, if the 20th falls on a Sunday.
Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight of the Constitution includes the wording of the oath of office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The President may substitute the word “affirm” for “swear.” It is believed the Framers of the Constitution included this option because of the Quaker literal interpretation of a passage in the New Testament to not use swear words.
Certain elements of the inaugural ceremony are steeped in tradition but are not a requirement for taking the oath of office. George Washington took the oath of office with his left hand on a Bible, and his right hand raised. After saying the oath, he kissed the Bible. Many presidents after followed this example. John Quincy Adams took the oath with his hand on a book of law. When President Obama took the oath of office in 2013, he uttered the words, “So help me God” at the end. It is believed that President Washington started this tradition, though historians are not sure about it.
After taking the oath of office, the U.S. President gives his speech, the Inaugural Address. The form and words have changed greatly over time. Below are excerpts of a few addresses:
Excerpt from President Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789:
Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally 'conspicuous' in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.
Excerpt from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Excerpt from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941:
In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy.
For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.
We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.
Excerpt from President John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
Excerpt from President Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981
If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.
Interesting Questions to Discuss with your Kids and Student:
1. What is inauguration day?
2. When does it take place?
3. What did Washington put his left hand on when he took the oath of office?
4. What four words did President Obama utter after he took the oath of office?
5. What is the Inaugural Address?
6. Who is Washington referring to in his Inaugural Address when he states “since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility?”
7. Paraphrase the following section from Lincoln’s speech: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,”
8. Paraphrase the following from Roosevelt’s speech: “As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”
9. John F. Kennedy spoke about the challenging of fighting communism in the following quote, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.” Based on this quote, what was his intention in this challenge?
10. According to Ronald Reagan, why has America prospered?
Copyright ©2017 by the Classical Historian. All Rights Reserved.
By John De Gree of The Classical Historian
On July 4th, 1776, delegates at the Continental Congress adopted “The Declaration of Independence.” This declaration stated that the 13 English colonies were now formally separated from Great Britain and part of a new country, the United States of America. The chief writer of the declaration, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the ideals of the young nation and explained to the world why the states were breaking with the mother country, Great Britain.
Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, English colonists slowly grew to see themselves as something different from English. At the founding of the first English colony in 1607, the English colonists of America were proud Englishmen with English rights. At the same time, however, the English colonists enjoyed greater freedoms than the people in England. In America, for example, many colonists enjoyed the right to vote, to choose their own legislature, and had greater economic freedoms than in England.
From 1754-1763, the English colonists fought alongside the British in the French and Indian War. In this worldwide conflict, France and England fought over control of North America. In America, a young George Washington distinguished himself as a capable and valiant officer. Washington successfully led a British retreat, after the British General Braddock was killed at the Battle of Monongahela. The British won the war and established itself as the dominant power of North America.
The French and Indian War was a spark to America’s independence. During the war, many English colonists realized they were different than the British soldiers who they fought with. Often, the British officers looked down upon the colonists and did not respect their customs and fighting. After the war, King George III and Parliament faced a huge war debt. To pay off the debt, the English chose to levy taxes on the English colonists. As the colonists were not used to being taxed without voting on it, they protested. This eventually led to the separation of the two nations.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson writes the ideals of the new nation, “We hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal.” The notion that all men are created equal involves a number of ideas. The first is that there is one Creator of all men. Jefferson and the Founding Fathers believed in one God who created all things. The second idea in this statement is that the Creator gave all humans political equality. At birth, people were meant to have the same rights. One person was not intended to have more rights than another. In the British system, and in much of the world at the time, certain people in society had more rights than others. In the new United States of America, the ideal was for political equality.
At the time of the Declaration, there were slaves in America. However, Jefferson’s writing on political equality was his vision of an ideal. It is important for a people to have an ideal to strive for. Eventually, the U.S.A. would rid itself of slavery, and black Americans would enjoy equal political rights.
Does political equality mean economic equality? Some people have falsely argued this. Having the same political rights does not mean that a people will be equal in every way. Jefferson did not write that all people will have the same amount of money for example. This would require the end of freedom, as some people would have their property taken from them by force.
Jefferson continues to write in the Declaration “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are commonly referred to as the “natural rights.” They are natural because man has them through birth. No government gives man these rights. They are his naturally, from God. The right to life means that nobody is allowed to take a human life. Murder is against the law. Liberty means the right to political freedoms, such as the right of free speech, free press, and the right of religious freedom. The pursuit of freedom had commonly been understood to mean the right to own private property, but it also seems to imply more than this. In most places of the world in the 1700s, people were not allowed to own property. Property was the right held only by the ruler, or by the ruling class. In the new country of the U.S.A., the American Founding Fathers firmly believed in every man’s right to own land. This right allowed a person independence from government, and the ability to establish a family and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
On July 4th, Americans celebrate Independence Day by spending time with family, watching fireworks, listening to speeches given my military and political leaders, and by taking time off from life’s work. July 4th may be called America’s first federal holiday, because on this day our country established itself as an independent country. On July 4th, take the time to read out loud the Declaration of Independence, and reflect on all of the work America’s Founding Fathers put into establishing our country, as well as all of the sacrifices Americans have made for their country over more than two centuries.
Great Discussion Questions You Can Ask Your Kids
Lesson Suggestions for All Ages:
On July 4th, the family should read out loud the Declaration of Independence, and the parents should explain why they think it was important for the American Founding Fathers to break from Great Britain. Special holidays are excellent opportunities for the adults to give to their children words of wisdom.
Suggestions for Students:
Have the students create a very simple 5 Question quiz on the American Revolution. Have the students try to ask as many people these questions, keeping track of the score of each person. After asking at least 10 people, have the students report to the teacher how much, or how little, these 10 people know. The idea behind this is to find out how much Americans know and don’t know about the beginning of their country.
Below is a list of interesting facts and figures on Independence Day from the U.S. Census, 2012.
In July 1776, the estimated number of people living in the newly independent nation.
The nation's estimated population on this July Fourth.
In 2011, the dollar value of U.S. imports of American flags. The vast majority of this amount ($3.3 million) was for U.S. flags made in China.
Dollar value of U.S. flags exported in 2011. Mexico was the leading customer, purchasing $80,349 worth.
Dollar value of shipments of fabricated flags, banners and similar emblems by the nation's manufacturers in 2007, according to the latest published economic census statistics.
The value of fireworks imported from China in 2011, representing the bulk of all U.S. fireworks imported ($232.5 million). U.S. exports of fireworks, by comparison, came to just $15.8 million in 2011, with Australia purchasing more than any other country ($4.5 million).
The value of U.S. manufacturers' shipments of fireworks and pyrotechnics (including flares, igniters, etc.) in 2007.
Patriotic-Sounding Place Names
Thirty-one places have “liberty” in their names. The most populous one as of April 1, 2010, was Liberty, Mo. (29,149). Iowa, with four, has more of these places than any other state: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty and West Liberty.
Thirty-five places have “eagle” in their names. The most populous one is Eagle Pass, Texas, with a population of 26,248.
Eleven places have “independence” in their names. The most populous one is Independence, Mo., with a population of 116,830.
Nine places have “freedom” in their names. The most populous one is New Freedom, Pa., with a population of 4,464.
One place has “patriot” in its name. Patriot, Ind., has a population of 209.
Five places have “America” in their names. The most populous is American Fork, Utah, with a population of 26,263.
Early Presidential Last Names
Ranking of the frequency of the surname of our first president, George Washington, among all last names tabulated in the 2000 Census. Other early presidential names that appear on the list, along with their ranking, were Adams (39), Jefferson (594), Madison (1,209) and Monroe (567).
The British are Coming!
Dollar value of trade last year between the United States and the United Kingdom, making the British, our adversary in 1776, our sixth-leading trading partner today.
Fourth of July Cookouts
Almost 1 in 3
The chance that the hot dogs and pork sausages consumed on the Fourth of July originated in Iowa. The Hawkeye State was home to 19.7 million hogs and pigs on March 1, 2012. This estimate represents almost one-third of the nation's estimated total. North Carolina (8.6 million) and Minnesota (7.6 million) were also homes to large numbers of pigs.
7.2 billion pounds
Total production of cattle and calves in Texas in 2011. Chances are good that the beef hot dogs, steaks and burgers on your backyard grill came from the Lone Star State, which accounted for about one-sixth of the nation's total production. And if the beef did not come from Texas, it very well may have come from Nebraska (4.6 billion pounds) or Kansas (4.0 billion pounds).
Number of states in which the value of broiler chicken production was estimated at $1 billion or greater between December 2010 and November 2011. There is a good chance that one of these states — Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi or Texas — is the source of your barbecued chicken.
Please Pass the Potato
Potato salad and potato chips are popular food items at Fourth of July barbecues. Approximately half of the nation's spuds were produced in Idaho or Washington state in 2011.
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.
10% off all Products and Services through 5/30 with the Coupon Code: MemorialDay
Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to honor all American soldiers who have fallen in battle. In 1967, Congress and the President Lyndon Johnson set aside May 30th as Memorial Day, but the history of this day goes back at least to the end of the American Civil War. Americans remember our fallen soldiers by attending church services and praying for military families, visiting war museums, and remembering loved ones who died fighting by placing flowers on graves of deceased American warriors.
More Americans died in the American Civil War than in all other American wars. An estimated 625,000 American soldiers died, including about 30% of all Southern white males and 10 percent of Northern males ages 20-45. Nearly every American knew someone who died. The sheer numbers of death and casualties in America had a great impact on the living, and immediately, Americans spontaneously acted to honor those who gave their lives.
In the South and in the North, Americans strove to honor those who died fighting for their country. The United States government established national cemeteries for the Union dead. But what started the practice of Memorial Day was not an official governmental act, but thousands of individual acts of tenderness and care that survivors showed to the graves of fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Communities held “Decoration Days,” where everyone would walk to the cemetery to decorate the gravestones of the dead soldiers.
One of the first known observances of a mass Decoration Day was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. 257 Union prisoners had died during the war in a Charleston war prison and had been buried there. Freed slaves, along with missionaries and others, organized a celebration in May. Some in the North have called this the “First Decoration Day.” On this day, more than 10,000 people, including 3,000 newly freed children, participated.
Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the American Army, the U.S. government, and individual states celebrated Decoration Day, usually on May 30th, a date chosen because no great battle fell on this day. In 1967, Memorial Day became an official holiday, originally set to May 30th. In 1968, Congress pass a law which moved four holidays to the closest Monday to create convenient three-day weekends. Unfortunately, this move has caused most Americans to view holidays such as Memorial Day as an opportunity for mere recreation, instead of trying to honor our fallen soldiers.
On June 6, 1984, on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech in front of the U.S. Ranger Monument at Normandy, commemorating the Rangers’ charge up Pointe du Hoc.
“Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it – that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty.”
Below are listed all American military deaths that occurred because of the various wars of the United States of America.
Conflict Deaths Span
American Revolution 25,000 1775-1783
Northwest Indian War 1,056 1785-1795
Quasi-War 514 1798-1800
War of 1812 20,000 1812-1815
1st Seminole War 36 1817-1818
Black Hawk War 305 1832
2nd Seminole War 1,535 1835-1842
Mexican-American War 13,283 1846-1848
3rd Seminole War 26 1855-1858
Civil War 625,000 1861-1865
Indian Wars 919 1865-1898
Great Sioux War 314 1875-1877
Spanish-America War 2,446 1898
Philippine-American War 4,196 1898-1913
Boxer Rebellion 131 1900-1901
Mexican Revolution 35 1914-1919
Haiti Occupation 148 1915-1934
World War 1 116,516 1917-1918
North Russia Campaign 424 1918-1920
American Exped. Force Siberia 328 1918-1920
Nicaragua Occupation 48 1927-1933
World War 2 405,399 1941-1945
Korean War 36,516 1950-1953
Vietnam War 58,209 1955-1975
El Salvador Civil War 37 1980-1992
Beirut 266 1982-1984
Grenada 19 1983
Panama 40 1989
Persian Gulf War 258 1990-1991
Operation Provide Comfort 19 1991-1996
Somalia Intervention 43 1992-1995
Bosnia 12 1995-2004
NATO Air Campaign Yugoslavia 20 1999
The War on Terror
a. Afghanistan (ongoing) 2,145 2001-
b. Iraq 4,486 2003-2011
Great Discussion Questions You Can Ask Your Kids
1. Order the five most dangerous American wars, in terms of American deaths.
2. After which war did Americans begin to celebrate Decoration Day?
3. When was Memorial Day officially established as a federal holiday?
4. Why was Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day?
5. Why do you think it is important to honor America’s fallen soldiers?
6. What has been America’s longest war?
7. Which of America’s wars has caused the most deaths?
8. According to President Ronald Reagan, what were the reasons the American soldiers fought for?
9. In the Civil War, which side lost more of the men, as a percentage of the whole society?
10. According to Reagan, what did American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy have a deep knowledge of?
By John De Gree of www.classicalhistorian.com Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved. #theclassicalhistorian
George Washington (1732-1799)
"First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen"
Washington's Birthday is one of eleven federal holidays of the United States of America. Americans celebrate this holiday on the third Monday of February. Within the last 30 or 40 years, some states have preferred to call this holiday "President's Day" in honor of Washington and Lincoln, as both are born in February. Sadly, most kids know little about Washington except that he was our first President.
George Washington is called The Father of our Country. This name is significant. Without a father, there can be no family. Many historians say that without George Washington, there could be no United States of America. George Washington was the most important American during its founding years.
I. Early Life
Born on February 22, 1732, George Washington grew up on his family’s tobacco plantation in Virginia. His family owned slaves and was moderately wealthy. As a little boy, George was known for swimming in the nearby river, playing outside, riding horses, and taking his studies seriously. We think George studied under Reverend James Marye, rector of St. George’s Parish.
In the 1700s, death was much more common than it is today due to poorer medical knowledge and practice. George’s father’s first wife died. His father Augustine remarried to Mary and they had six children. George was Augustine and Mary’s first baby, and he was born on February 22, 1732 in Virginia. Augustine and Mary lost three children, two dying in infancy, and one at the age of 12. When George was 11, his father died.
Washington studied and practiced good manners and correct behavior. As a young man, Washington attended church at St. George’s Parish in Fredericksburg. Along with his religious training, he learned how to behave in society by writing and reflecting on a book entitled Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. The book survives today.
In public, Washington paid close attention to how he interacted with others, trying always to present himself in the best way possible. George took dancing lessons, went to the theater, and was renowned as a superb horseman. He was tall, especially for the 1700s, with some reporting that he was 6 feet, 4 inches. Washington is known for having a commanding presence.
II. Military Life
In the 1700s, France, Spain, and England wanted to control North America. Washington joined the Virginia militia and rose to the rank of major. In the French and Indian War (1756-1763), the English fought the French and Indians for control of the Ohio Valley. In The Battle of Monongahela, the British General Braddock was killed, and every other officer was shot, except Washington. Washington was forced to take over and skillfully lead the British and Virginian forces in retreat. Riding on his horse, back and forth among his soldiers in plain sight of the enemy, his actions saved perhaps hundreds of soldiers. On that day, the Indians shot and killed two horses while he was riding them, but they couldn’t kill Washington.
After the battle, his coat had bullet holes on both the front and the back. A story it told that as President, an Indian warrior visited him and said these words, “White Father. I was there at the Battle of Monongahela. We were victorious that day and had shot all of the officers off of their horses but you. I told my men to aim at you, but after many efforts to kill you, we realized that The Great Spirit was protecting you, and we stopped firing on you.”
General Washington achieved his greatest military success during the American Revolution (1775-1783). Named Commander of the Continental Army, Washington raised an army from farmers, trained the Americans into a professional fighting force, and defeated the greatest empire in the world. It is difficult to overstate his accomplishments in the American Revolution. In the battles he lost, such as The Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776, he craftily led his army out of a terrible trap so they could fight another day. In battles he won, such as the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, he gave the American army courage that they could win the war. In the last battle of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, he tricked one of the world’s best generals, General Cornwallis, and captured, killed, or wounded Cornwallis’ entire army.
Washington served as President from 1789-1797. He strengthened the national government and set a precedent that Presidents would not become kings. During his service, he worked hard to make Americans see themselves as Americans first, and not as citizens of the various states or as people who were French-American or English-American. When citizens in Pennsylvania violently protested a tax on whiskey, Washington ordered 13,000 U.S. soldiers to march and put down the revolt. When Washington was asked to serve a third term, he refused and went back to being a farmer in Virginia. Because of his example of humility, all subsequent presidents for over 130 years only served two terms. Within a few years of retiring from public life, Washington became sick and died at his home, Mount Vernon.
IV. National Holiday
In 1880, an act of Congress declared George Washington’s birthday as a federal holiday. It is the first national holiday honoring an American citizen. Washington’s birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of February.
For Pre-K Through Grade 5:
1. After reading the biography, continue to scroll down to the Rules of Civility Washington learned as a young man. Choose two rules of civility and have the students copy these rules. Have the kids write the rules in their own words. Ask the students if they think the rules are important.
2. The following website has coloring pages and other activities for kids:
3. After reading and discussing the biography, young students write a paragraph on this question, "What type of person was George Washington? Base your answer on Washington's beliefs, his childhood, and his actions."
For grades 6-12:
1. After reading the biography, continue to scroll down to the Rules of Civility Washington learned as a young man. Choose two rules of civility and have the students copy these rules. Have the kids write the rules in their own words. Ask the students if they think the rules are important.
2. Have the students write a short paragraph answering this question, “What did George Washington do that encouraged Americans to call him the “Father of the Country?”
3. Get the family together, and have the older kids read out loud their paragraphs.
4. For the semester, or year, you could have the kids copy one piece of advice per week, and attempt to focus on this one rule each week.
Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour
In Company and Conversation
When George Washington was a young man, he copied the following, which was translated from a European language. He may be the most respected American public servant of all time, and it seems that he followed the advice set forth in the following rules.
1. Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
2. When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usually Discovered.
3. Shew Nothing to your Freind that may affright him.
4. In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.
5. If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif
or Hand before your face and turn aside.
6. Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
7. Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.
8. At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.
9. Spit not in the Fire, nor Stoop low before it neither Put your Hands into the Flames to warm them, nor Set your Feet upon the Fire especially if there be meat before it
10. When you Sit down, Keep your Feet firm and Even, without putting one on the other or Crossing them. 11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs rowl not the Eys lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by appr[oaching too nea]r him [when] you Speak.
13th Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.
14th Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.
15th Keep your Nails clean and Short, also your Hands and Teeth Clean yet without Shewing any great Concern for them.
16th Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.
17th Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play'd Withal.18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unask'd also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
19th let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.
20th The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.
21st: Reproach none for the Infirmaties of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind thereof.
22d Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
23d When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always shew Pity to the Suffering Offender.
[24th Do not laugh too loud or] too much at any Publick [Spectacle].25th Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.
26th In Pulling off your Hat to Persons of Distinction, as Noblemen, Justices, Churchmen &c make a Reverence, bowing more or less according to the Custom of the Better Bred, and Quality of the Person. Amongst your equals expect not always that they Should begin with you first, but to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation, in the Manner of Saluting and resaluting in words keep to the most usual Custom.
27th Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered as well as not to do it to whom it's due Likewise he that makes too much haste to Put on his hat does not well, yet he ought to Put it on at the first, or at most the Second time of being ask'd; now what is herein Spoken, of Qualification in behaviour in Saluting, ought also to be observed in taking of Place, and Sitting down for ceremonies without Bounds is troublesome.
28th If any one come to Speak to you while you are are Sitting Stand up tho he be your Inferiour, and when you Present Seats let it be to every one according to his Degree.29th When you meet with one of Greater Quality than yourself, Stop, and retire especially if it be at a Door or any Straight place to give way for him to Pass.
30th In walking the highest Place in most Countrys Seems to be on the right hand therefore Place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to Honour: but if three walk together the mid[dest] Place is the most Honourable the wall is usually given to the most worthy if two walk together.
31st If any one far Surpassess others, either in age, Estate, or Merit [yet] would give Place to a meaner than hims[elf in his own lodging or elsewhere] the one ought not to except it, S[o he on the other part should not use much earnestness nor offer] it above once or twice.
32d: To one that is your equal, or not much inferior you are to give the cheif Place in your Lodging and he to who 'tis offered ought at the first to refuse it but at the Second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.
33d They that are in Dignity or in office have in all places Preceedency but whilst they are Young they ought to respect those that are their equals in Birth or other Qualitys, though they have no Publick charge.34th It is good Manners to prefer them to whom we Speak befo[re] ourselves especially if they be above us with whom in no Sort we ought to begin.
35th Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.
36th Artificers & Persons of low Degree ought not to use many ceremonies to Lords, or Others of high Degree but Respect and high[ly] Honour them, and those of high Degree ought to treat them with affibility & Courtesie, without Arrogancy.
37th In Speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in the Face, nor approach too near them at lest Keep a full Pace from them.
38th In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein.
39th In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.40th Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.
41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses; it Savours of arrogancy.
[42d Let thy ceremonies in] Courtesie be proper to the Dignity of his place [with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to ac]t the same with a Clown and a Prince.
43d Do not express Joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary Passion will aggravate his Misery.
44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.
45th Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in publick or in Private; presently, or at Some other time in what terms to do it & in reproving Shew no Sign of Cholar but do it with all Sweetness and Mildness.
46th Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever given but afterwards not being culpable take a Time [&] Place convenient to let him him know it that gave them.
7th Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance break [n]o Jest that are Sharp Biting and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasent abtain from Laughing thereat yourself.
48th Wherein wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.
9 Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.
0th Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparag[e]ment of any.
51st Wear not your Cloths, foul, unript or Dusty but See they be Brush'd once every day at least and take heed tha[t] you approach not to any Uncleaness.52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashio[n] of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places.
53d Run not in the Streets, neither go t[oo s]lowly nor wit[h] Mouth open go not Shaking yr Arms [kick not the earth with yr feet, go] not upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing [fashion].
54th Play not the Peacock, looking every where about you, to See if you be well Deck't, if your Shoes fit well if your Stokings sit neatly, and Cloths handsomely.
55th Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.
56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company.57th In walking up and Down in a House, only with One in Compan[y] if he be Greater than yourself, at the first give him the Right hand and Stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him, if he be a Man of Great Quality, walk not with him Cheek by Joul but Somewhat behind him; but yet in Such a Manner that he may easily Speak to you.
58th Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'tis a Sig[n o]f a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion [ad]mit Reason to Govern.
59th Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act agst the Rules Mora[l] before your inferiours.
60th Be not immodest in urging your Freinds to Discover a Secret.
61st Utter not base and frivilous things amongst grave and Learn'd Men nor very Difficult Questians or Subjects, among the Ignorant or things hard to be believed, Stuff not your Discourse with Sentences amongst your Betters nor Equals.62d Speak not of doleful Things in a Time of Mirth or at the Table; Speak not of Melancholy Things as Death and Wounds, and if others Mention them Change if you can the Discourse tell not your Dreams, but to your intimate Friend.
63d A Man o[ug]ht not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare Qua[lities of wit; much less of his rich]es Virtue or Kindred.
64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho' there Seem to be Some cause.
65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.
66th Be not froward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute hear and answer & be not Pensive when it's a time to Converse.67th Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.
68th Go not thither, where you know not, whether you Shall be Welcome or not. Give not Advice with[out] being Ask'd & when desired [d]o it briefly.
9 If two contend together take not the part of either unconstrain[ed]; and be not obstinate in your own Opinion, in Things indiferent be of the Major Side.
70th Reprehend not the imperfections of others for that belong[s] to Parents Masters and Superiours.
71st Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of Others and ask not how they came. What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not before others.
72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously.73d Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring ou[t] your Words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.
74th When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speec[h] be ended.
75th In the midst of Discourse ask [not of what one treateth] but if you Perceive any Stop because of [your coming you may well intreat him gently] to Proceed: If a Person of Quality comes in while your Conversing it's handsome to Repeat what was said before.
76th While you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.
77th Treat with men at fit Times about Business & Whisper not in the Company of Others.
78th Make no Comparisons and if any of the Company be Commended for any brave act of Vertue, commend not another for the Same.
79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A [Se]cret Discover not.
80th Be not Tedious in Discourse or in reading unless you find the Company pleased therewith.
81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.
82d Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Carefull to keep your Promise.83d When you deliver a matter do it without Passion & with Discretion, howev[er] mean the Person be you do it too.
84th When your Superiours talk to any Body hearken not neither Speak nor Laugh.
85th In Company of these of Higher Quality than yourself Speak not ti[l] you are ask'd a Question then Stand upright put of your Hat & Answer in few words.
86 In Disputes, be not So Desireous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.
[87th Let thy carriage be such] as becomes a Man Grave Settled and attentive [to that which is spoken. Contra]dict not at every turn what others Say.
88th Be not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressigns, nor rep[eat] often the Same manner of Discourse.89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.
90 Being Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose except there's a Necessity for it.
91st Make no Shew of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed no[t] with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on the Table neither find fault with what you Eat.
92 Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.
93 Entertaining any one at table it is decent to present him wt. meat, Undertake not to help others undesired by the Master.
4th If you Soak bread in the Sauce let it be no more than what you [pu]t in your Mouth at a time and blow not your broth at Table [bu]t Stay till Cools of it Self.
th Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your ha[nd ne]ither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pye upon a Dish nor Cas[t an]ything under the table.
6 It's unbecoming to Stoop much to ones Meat Keep your Fingers clea[n &] when foul wipe them on a Corner of your Table Napkin.
th Put not another bit into your Mouth til the former be Swallowed [l]et not your Morsels be too big for the Gowls.
98th Drink not nor talk with your mouth full neither Gaze about you while you are a Drinking.
99th Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after Drinking wipe your Lips breath not then or Ever with too Great a Noise, for its uncivil.100 Cleanse not your teeth with the Table Cloth Napkin Fork or Knife but if Others do it let it be done wt. a Pick Tooth.
101st Rince not your Mouth in the Presence of Others.
102d It is out of use to call upon the Company often to Eat nor need you Drink to others every Time you Drink.
103d In Company of your Betters be no[t longer in eating] than they are lay not your Arm but o[nly your hand upon the table].
104th It belongs to the Chiefest in Company to unfold his Napkin and fall to Meat first, But he ought then to Begin in time & to Dispatch [w]ith Dexterity that the Slowest may have time allowed him.
05th Be not Angry at Table whatever happens & if you have reason to be so, Shew it not but on a Chearfull Countenance especially if there be Strangers for Good Humour makes one Dish of Meat a Feas[t].
06th Set not yourself at the upper of the Table but if it Be your Due or that the Master of the house will have it So, Contend not, least you Should Trouble the Company.
107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth.108th When you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously & [wt.] Reverence. Honour & Obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor.
109th Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Ce[les]tial fire Called Conscience.
On the third Monday of January, Americans celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, perhaps the most important leader of the Civil Rights Movement. King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, in an American society that had strict laws and customs that were based on the color of your skin. This legal policy called segregation separated whites from non-whites in nearly all public places and limited the ability of black Americans to completely enjoy the benefits that come with living in a free country. Raised in a strong Christian environment, Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that the best way to change the United States and end segregation was to win over the hearts of fellow Americans by following the teachings of Jesus Christ to “love your enemy” and by following the example of non-violent leaders such as the Indian Mahatma Ghandi. In large part due to Dr. King’s words and example, Americans ended segregation in the 1960s and today enjoy perhaps one of the freest societies of the world, where people are judged on their character and actions more than on their physical appearances. Tragically, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by confirmed racist James Earl Ray.
Racial segregation became a way of life in most southern states after Reconstruction ended in 1877. During Reconstruction, the U.S. attempted to “reconstruct” the Confederacy that had just lost the Civil War. Larry Schweikart writes in A Patriot’s History of the United States that in Reconstruction (1867-1877), the U.S. attempted to readmit members of the Confederacy, rebuild the South, and help the freed men and women to live and work in a hostile environment. When Reconstruction ended, the northern soldiers went home, and the southern whites enacted laws that separated whites from non-whites. In practice, segregation greatly limited black Americans’ ability to work, kept black Americans from voting, and created a permanent underclass where blacks did not enjoy the protection of the U.S. law. Economic and social mobility was nearly impossible for black Americans, and in many southern states, black Americans were in constant physical danger. They were terrorized, brutalized, and murdered in astonishing numbers. The Supreme Court, in Plessy v Ferguson (1896) legalized racial segregation. Segregation was the legal policy of separating the races, but it also meant that black Americans would always constitute a permanent underclass.
Childhood and Young Adulthood
Martin grew up in a strong, religious family. Originally named Michael like his father, he changed his name after the famous founder of the Lutheran religion, Martin Luther. His grandfather founded the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and when he died, Martin’s father became the pastor. Martin attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he skipped both the ninth and the eleventh grades. At age 15, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. As a junior in college, he decided to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps to become a pastor.
As a doctoral student of theology at Boston University, Martin met Coretta Scott, a singer and musician at the New England Conservatory. They married and eventually had four children. King received his Ph.D. in 1955 and became pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama.
In the 1950s, many in America realized that the policy of segregation was unjust and against the basic ideals of the United States. Many black Americans had fought and sacrificed in World War II and were currently fighting and dying in Korea. It seemed horribly unfair, then, that at home, black Americans did not have equal rights with white Americans. Those who wanted to change segregation were faced with many options. One was just to wait until things changed, somehow. Another option was to turn to violence and to force white America to change. Martin Luther King, Jr. chose a third option. A strong Christian and student of nonviolent methods, King believed that the most effective and just way to promote change in America was to love your neighbor and win over his heart. King’s choice was not an easy one, and he bore the pain and suffering of his decision. However, his way of nonviolence and love most likely saved the lives of many, and brought about immense change in the United States.
In 1955, a brave and simple act by Rosa Parks, a 42 year-old woman, began the Civil Rights Movement and the national leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In Montgomery buses, blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, and if there were no more white seats towards the front, blacks were supposed to stand and allow the whites to sit. Rosa Parks sat in the black section, but was ordered to stand by the bus driver because there were a few whites who had no seats. Parks refused to stand, was arrested, and fined. Black community leaders met and decided to fight the bus company. They chose Dr. King, Jr. to lead a bus boycott and force the bus company to change its policy. After 382 days of avoiding bus travel, enduring harassment, violence, and intimidation, the blacks of Montgomery forced the company to desegregate its buses. The Civil Rights Movement had begun, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the noted leader of peaceful, nonviolent resistance to the unjust system of segregation in America.
Dr. King, Jr. was involved in many more Civil Rights battles, was jailed, and was eventually murdered for his desire to see a color-free American society. A moving orator, King, Jr. is most recognized for his “I Have a Dream” speech given in Washington, D.C. in 1963. It is here where King spoke of his dream of an America where children would grow up in a country where they would be judged based on the quality of their character and not the color of their skin. Segregation officially ended in the United States by the passage of various laws in the 1960s.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. King, Jr. was assassinated by white supremacist James Earl Ray. Ray fled the country, was found in London, convicted, and sentenced to 99 years in jail. In jail, he recanted his testimony, pled his innocence, and died in 1998.
Four days after Dr. King's death Congressmen began an effort to have a federal holiday in honor of him. However, some Americans felt that he was just one person of many in the Civil Rights Movement. And, some Americans were upset that segregation ended. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law holiday legislation, making the third Monday in January the day to honor Dr. King, Jr. Even after the federal holiday was declared, several southern states included celebrations for various Confederate generals on that day, and some states protested.
For elementary through high school:
Answer these questions from the text:
1. When was Dr. King, Jr. born?
2. What was his original name?
3. Why did he change his name?
4. What was his wife’s name and how many children did they have?
5. What grades did Martin skip in high school?
6. What was Dr. King, Jr.’s occupation?
7. Was religion important to Dr. King, Jr.? Explain your answer:
8. What was segregation?
9. How did the Civil Rights Movement begin?
10. Who were Dr. King’s role models and how did these role models affect Dr. King, Jr.?
Questions for junior high and high school students:
New Year’s Day in the United States of America has been celebrated for over two hundred years, but the history of New Year’s Day goes back thousands of years. In 2000 B.C., Mesopotamians celebrated the vernal equinox as the beginning of a new year. This practice continued through the Middle Ages, with many countries of the world celebrating the New Year on March 20th. However, in 1752, the British and their colonists in America adopted the Gregorian calendar, and from this time on, Americans have celebrated New Year’s Day on January 1st.
What is the Vernal Equinox?
Vernal means “Spring”, and equinox means “equal night”. On the vernal equinox, March 20th, the sun is located above the equator and day and night are about equal length. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, March 20th marks the beginning of Spring. After this day, there is an increasing amount of sunlight every day until the beginning of Summer, June 21. For ancient people, celebrating the vernal equinox as the New Year was very logical. People were moving away from darkness into the light. Agrarian people rely on the power of the sun in growing crops. For the ancients, the vernal equinox was a time to celebrate birth, sunlight, and fertility. Romans would exchange gifts and make promises they would try to fulfill in the new year.
Why Do We Celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st and not March 20th?
The United States of America and most Western countries trace much of their cultural heritage to the Roman Republic and to Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices. Before Julius Caesar, Romans celebrated March 1st as the New Year because March is the first month in the Roman calendar. Romans had a festival to honor their god, Mars (God of War). In 45 B.C., Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar and changed the celebration of the New Year to January 1st, in honor of Janus, the Roman god who January is named after. The god Janus was always shown with two faces, one looking to the past and one looking ahead. On this day, the Romans exchanged gifts and promised to be better with each other in the new year. Romans also celebrated this day by throwing parties food, drink, and dancing.
The first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (272 – 337), kept the Julian Calendar, but turned New Year’s Day into a day of prayer and fasting. Christians were encouraged to use the day as a beginning to live better lives. From the seventh century on, January 1st was celebrated by Christians in the Roman Calendar as a day honoring The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Christian Church attempted to change the parties of the Roman times into a time of prayer and reflection.
New Year’s Parties Abolished
In 567 at the Council of Tours, Christians abolished the celebrations of January 1 because they considered them pagan. Instead, they celebrated the new year on December 25th , the day the Church chose to honor the birth of Jesus. However, there weren’t mass celebrations of the new year, as knowledge of the exact date was not widespread.
Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored
In 1582, much of the Western world reformed the Julian Calendar because of its inaccuracies and adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Named after Pope Gregory III, the calendar restored January 1st as the New Year Day. Great Britain kept the Julian calendar until 1752, and it was at this time that the English colonists started celebrating January 1st as New Year’s Day.
How do Americans Celebrate New Year’s Day?
Americans celebrate New Year’s Day in a variety of ways. On New Year’s Eve, there are gatherings of friends and family the evening before to remember the year past and to look forward to the new year. There is revelry and merry making that takes place in private and public places. Some Americans make New Year’s resolutions, with promises of working harder, losing weight, or enrolling in a class. Other Americans carry on the religious traditions of New Year’s Day, as well. Anglicans and Lutherans mark the day as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, remembering the Christian belief that Christ was circumcised 8 days after birth. Roman Catholics celebrate this day remembering Mary as the mother of Jesus.
1. When did Mesopotamians celebrate the new year?
2. What does the Vernal Equinox mean for those living in the Northern Hemisphere?
3. Who changed the celebration of the new year to January 1st in 45 B.C.?
4. Why was the date of the new year changed?
5. How did the Romans celebrate the new year?
6. How did Constantine the Great change the celebrating of the new year?
7. From the seventh century on, who did Christians using the Roman Calendar give honor to?
8. Throughout the first eight centuries, why did most people in the world not celebrate the new year?
9. When was the Gregorian Calendar adopted by most of the Western world?
10. How do people of various Christian faiths celebrate the new year religiously?
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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