Our Dr. Franklin, that man of rare good sense and good will, describes how the idea of Thanksgiving reflected a shift in American thinking.
“There is a Tradition that in the Planting of New England, the first Settlers met with many Difficulties and Hardships, as is generally the Case when a civilized People attempt establishing themselves in a wilderness Country.
“Being so piously disposed, they sought Relief from Heaven by laying their Wants and Distresses before the Lord in frequent set Days of Fasting and Prayer. Constant Meditation and Discourse on these Subjects, kept their Minds gloomy and discontented, and like the Children of Israel there were many disposed to return to the Egypt which Persecution had induced them to abandon.
“At length, when it was proposed in the Assembly to proclaim another Fast, a Farmer of plain Sense rose and remarked, that the Inconveniences they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied Heaven with their Complaints, were not so great as they might have expected, and were diminishing every day as the Colony strengthened; that the Earth began to reward their Labour and furnish liberally for their Subsistence; that their Seas and Rivers were full of Fish, the Air sweet, the Climate healthy; and above all, that they were there in the full Enjoyment of Liberty civil and religious.
“He therefore thought that reflecting and conversing on these Subjects would be more comfortable as leading more to make them contented with their Situation; and that it would be more becoming the Gratitude they owed to the divine Being, if instead of a Fast they should proclaim a Thanksgiving.
“His Advice was taken, and from that day to this, they have in every Year observed Circumstances of public Felicity sufficient to furnish Employment for a Thanksgiving Day, which is therefore constantly ordered and religiously observed.”
(pp. 116-117, “The Writings of Benjamin Franklin” Albert Henry Smith, ed., MacMillan, New York, 1907)