Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.
This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.
And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.
So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.
For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.
His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.
How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.
So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?
Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.
But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.
We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.
And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

The 19th-century editor who pestered five presidents to make it a national holiday.

By Rich Lowry
It was 150 years ago that Sarah Josepha Hale gave us Thanksgiving as we know it.
The influential editor was the best friend Thanksgiving ever had. We are accustomed, in a more jaded and secular age, to wars on various holidays; Hale waged a war for Thanksgiving. For years, she evangelized for nationalizing the holiday by designating the last Thursday of November for it to be celebrated annually across the country.
Besides plugging for Thanksgiving in her publication, Godey’s Lady’s Book, she wrote Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan about it before hitting pay dirt with Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln urged his fellow citizens to observe the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Hale had succeeded in her long-sought goal, but kept — as Peggy Baker notes in an essay about her as “the Godmother of Thanksgiving” — writing editorials about Thanksgiving for another dozen years. You might say that she was a bore and nag on the topic, if her cause hadn’t been so splendid and her understanding of Thanksgiving so clear-eyed, clairvoyant even.
Hale saw the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving as the twin festivals of the American people, “each connected with their history, and therefore of great importance in giving power and distinctness to their nationality,” as she put it in an 1852 editorial.
July Fourth celebrated national independence and liberty, while Thanksgiving acknowledged God “as the dispenser of blessings.” She argued that “these two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.”
Of course, Thanksgiving had existed on these shores long before Hale took it up as a cause. Her description of a New England Thanksgiving feast in her 1827 novel Northwood would have been recognized by Norman Rockwell, and could apply with equal accuracy to the average American home today. She described the table “now intended for the whole household, every child having a seat on this occasion; and the more the better.”
“The roasted turkey took precedence,” she wrote, “being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the froth of the basting.”
The dessert course is almost as recognizable: “There was a huge plum pudding, custards and pies of every name and description ever known in Yankee land; yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche.”
Thanksgiving had always been held in autumn, Hale explains in the book, “the time when the overflowing garners of America call for this expression of joyful gratitude.” But different states held it on different days, and the holiday tradition was strongest in New England. Hale wanted to guarantee Thanksgiving’s place in America’s firmament by making it a national day.
She quoted the 19th-century British writer Robert Southey in making her case. “Festivals, when duly observed, attach men to the civil and religious institutions of their country,” he wrote. “Who is there who does not recollect their effect upon himself in early life?”
Hale understood the particular pull of Thanksgiving. She wrote in 1837, “It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart — the social and domestic ties.” (Although her faith in family bonds, re-fortified around the Thanksgiving table, might have been a touch naïve: “How can we hate our Mississippi brother-in-law? And who is a better fellow than our wife’s uncle from St. Louis?”)
In her 1852 editorial, she predicted that “wherever an American is found, the last Thursday would be the Thanksgiving Day. Families may be separated so widely that personal reunion would be impossible; still this festival, like the Fourth of July, will bring every American heart into harmony with his home and his country.” And so it does, still.