Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving with John V. Faith: Bah, humbug

I set out to find something warm and fuzzy for Thanksgiving among the earliest surviving editions of Chariton newspapers --- and ran squarely in to John Faith instead.

John founded The Democrat in 1867 as partisan competition for The Patriot, established in 1854 and Republican in political outlook --- Republicans were the progressives of the time. He was a Copperhead, an avowed racist and seems always to have been in bad temper.

There's general agreement that John was a talented writer and could be a good reporter, but lacked anything resembling a sense of proportion.  By 1870 he had made so many people of all political persuasions so mad that declines in subscriptions and advertising forced him to pack his printing press and cases of type and moved to Osceola, where he sputtered out editorially in short order, too. 

But those early issues of The Democrat survived and early issues of The Patriot did not, so those relying on newspaper reports to gauge the mood of post-Civil War Lucas County have no choice but to peer through Mr. Faith's jaundiced editorial eye.

Here's John's Thanksgiving message for 1868, published in The Democrat of November 26:

"THANKSGIVING --- Last week we published the proclamation of the governor setting apart this day as a day for "prayer and thanksgiving" by the people of Iowa, "that God has disposed the hearts of our people to deal justly and love mercy, denying the claims of liberty and equality to none of the children of God within our borders," &tc., &tc. This ain't our ticket. We voted against negro equality, and we don't intend to pray and give thanks because it has been inflicted upon the country. For all things else, we feel duly thankful. Union Thanksgiving services will be held in the Methodist church today, Rev. Tappan officiating."

Iowa voters, during 1868, had approved an amendment to the state constitution striking the word "white" from voter qualifications --- but had left intact a provision that limited membership in the state Legislature to white males.

And here is John's report on Thanksgiving from The Democrat of November 23, 1869:

"Thanksgiving day was not observed in any manner by our citizens, except by religious services in one of the churches. The combined dictates of Grant (President Ulysses S. Grant) and Merrill (Iowa Gov. Samuel Merrill) do not inspire the feeling of reverence that we used to see in days of yore, when everything was peace and harmony amongst neighbors and in communities; when Thanksgiving day was observed by a suspension of business, church-going, rest, and a good square dinner of roast turkey, pumpkin pie, etc. The people fail to see any special reason why they should be thankful as a nation. If high taxes, hard times, despotic laws, lawlessness on the part of those who make laws, and general misfortune were blessings, then they might consistently offer up thanks. Now, we seem to be afflicted with all the misfortunes that could befall a nation. Our government is on the verge of anarchy or despotism; our financial system is tottering, and threatens to crush all that depends upon it; the condition of society is anything but flattering; murder, rapine, and crimes of all kinds seem to be unrestrained, and there is no visible good reason to hope for anything in the immediate future. Under such circumstances how could people feel thankful? Let us all labor to bring about a return of the good old days, and when we have succeeded, we'll all join the throng and shout hosannas till we have convinced ourselves that we are again the happiest and most prosperous of all nations."

John was overstating his case, here --- and I'd be willing to bet that reports in The Patriot, had they survived, would have presented a different view entirely. I'm not sure what to take away from all of this, other than a reminder --- if you're planning to do battle with your relatives about politics over Thanksgiving dinner, just remember that, truly, there's nothing new under the sun.

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