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Establishment Bias

July 11, 2018

The first Thanksgiving was observed not in Plymouth, Massachusetts but in Jamestown, Virginia.  The Jamestown celebration happened in 1610, eleven years before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving.  The Plymouth observance got all the recognition because the people of Massachusetts preceded the Virginians in the founding of schools and the publishing of books.  They were the first to write American history, and they wrote about what they knew.  The Pilgrims were an important part of colonial history, but their role has been inadvertently exaggerated in comparison to the other colonies.

Although Charles Francis Adams was born two hundred years after the founding of Jamestown, he accepted the conventional wisdom regarding his own section of the country.  It did not matter that four of the first five Presidents had been Virginians.  Two of the first six, his father and grandfather in particular, were from Massachusetts.  Now that the South had disgraced itself by fighting for slavery, the North would have the preeminence in determining what happened in the West.  There may be a Westerner in the White House, but, thankfully, there was a Northerner among the senior Cabinet members.  William Seward was not from Massachusetts, but he had the right ideas about what to do and how to do it, and his position as Secretary of State gave him access to President Lincoln.

The passage of time did little to change Adams’s opinion of Lincoln.  After Lincoln had been in his grave seven years, Secretary Seward died.  In his eulogy of Seward, Charles Francis Adams found it convenient to exaggerate Lincoln’s perceived deficiencies in order to honor his friend.  Seward, who had seen Lincoln up close and recognized his greatness, would not have been pleased with the comparison.





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