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Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania


The fiction of a Christian state, which is by degrees becoming exploded in Europe, continues to linger, we regret to see, in this country, in spite of the progress of liberalizing the public mind, which has been going forward for the last half century and more. Prejudice is something which no legislature can put down by a solemn enactment, and a long training of the public will be demanded before it will yield to better reason. We therefore constantly witness old and worn out notions coming again into life, the more dearly nursed because of the very want of vitality which they possess. It so happens that Christians in America have precisely such a hankering for dominion which the constitution under which we live especially denies them; and the only way they contrive to keep alive this feeling, this inordinate love for power, is by pretending to believe in the existing of no other persons in the common<<404>>wealth than themselves, the Christians, although they are composed of “black spirits and white, red spirits and gray,” who mingle as well as they can, that is, forming a mechanical, not a chemical combination, and are again separated, and form sundry precipitates as soon as their slight cohesion is acted on by the smallest reagent, of whatever name it may be.

And still this heterogeneous compound, parts of which are barely in name attached to the system which it upholds, always claims to be the State, like the old French tyrant, l’etat c’est moi. Now it seems that there are some Jews in the State likewise, persons not even nominally Christians, who do not by any inference, as do the Unitarians, pray through a redeemer; and for all that they are recognised by the constitution as much as the actual, nominal, or presumed Christians, under which latter class we reckon all those who have neither faith in the dogmas of the various sects, nor attend any particular church, and who still are presumed to favour Christianity because they belong to no other religion. By the same reasoning we could call them Jews, though we are not very anxious to claim their affinity. If, however, one comes to determine the amount of persons who actually, sincerely, devoutly, and understandingly pray through a redeemer, to found thereon the propriety of calling this a Christian State, it would be found that the number of dissentients is far greater than those belonging to the small Jewish society, perhaps larger by far than the actual, sincere, devout, and understanding persons who perform their prayers after this fashion. It is easy enough in words to make a profession, especially if all worldly interests point out the utility of one’s so doing; but many Christians in this land could give a very poor account of their belief, if we may judge from the profession of those with whom we have accidentally conversed.

We must therefore think it very bad taste indeed, to call it nothing worse, that when religion or religious observances are spoken of, to forget altogether that there are other religionists than Christians, and other observances than those founded on their system of faith. We contend that we are a part of the commonwealth; as much citizens as all others; equal in the eye of the law, being so by the spirit and letter of the constitution. We contribute by our taxes and military service to the protection of the State, and hence there can exist no reason why we should be forgotten whenever the people of the commonwealth are called on for any service. We ask for no exemptions of the burdens because we are Jews; we recognise not in the Christians the prerogative to support and defend the republic; nor do we recognise in them the right of appropriating to themselves the whole protection of the laws, all the offices, all the immunities of freemen, much less the right of being alone regarded as re<<405>>ligious and God-fearing men. We yield to no class of men in devotion to the good cause of popular liberty, nor in feelings of adoration to the Most High for having cast our lot in a land of freedom, where we can worship Him without fear or molestation, though we have not with us the popular applause whilst so serving Him as our law demands.

Our readers may therefore easily imagine that, having these views of public affairs, which by the by we have expressed often enough, we were greatly surprised and grieved to see the following proclamation of the Governor of Pennsylvania, appointing a day of thanksgiving, to be held by the people of the State for the causes therein set forth, by the wording of which we are excluded from participating in the general expression of gratitude in common with our Christian neighbours, because we do not pray in the manner there indicated, nor are we belonging to the various sects invited to participate. Now we have always respected the former proclamations, as far as we can recollect, though the institution of a public thanksgiving is new in Pennsylvania. It is now said that a former Governor committed the same mistake; it is possible enough, but we have not at hand the whole series of proclamations to verify or contradict the assertion. But this has nothing to do with the present notification. If a former one was wrong, it does not in the least render the one before us any better; and if before this we have passed by a wrong, it is no reason why we should  always remain passive under a neglect of our just rights. It is true that whether we keep thanksgiving on the 23d of November or not, is a small matter, as we have our own season of thanks and praise appointed by a law of greater antiquity than that puritanic custom of devoting one day in every year to such purpose, because the New England people had virtually abrogated all Catholic holidays, with the sole exception of Sundays, which moreover ought to have shared the same fate, as the celebration of the nativity (25th of December), the circumcision (1st of January), and the resurrection (Easter), resting on the same foundation, that is, papal authority.

Still, notwithstanding the weak reasons for setting apart a day of thanksgiving, we have in all States uniformly observed it, respecting the recommendation of the civil authority, not separating ourselves from our fellow-citizens in lifting up our voices to Him who blesses the seasons. We hope, however, that such an inadvertence will never occur again, and should it unfortunately be the case, we trust that a stronger remonstrance will be made than has now been done, in order to impress upon the rulers, elected by the people, that they are the servants of the whole community, not merely those of a large and respectable portion, if you will, an overwhelming majority. We are Jewish freemen, we vote for our rulers, and we <<406>>hence cannot permit them to overlook us either by accident or design, because of our small numbers.

We subjoin the document in question, which is recommended for its elegance of diction and felicity of expression, justly so indeed, except the concluding paragraph, which is the more remarkable, as the gentleman who wrote it is, as we are told, a Hicksite Friend, consequently an unbeliever himself in the divinity of the Christian Messiah!

Pennsylvania, SS.

[L. S.] In the name and by the authority of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by William F. Johnston, Governor of the said Commonwealth,


The performance of duties we owe to the Supreme Disposer of events, is a task no less pleasing than imperative. To Him, by whose enduring mercy we live, on whom we lean for support, whose arm is our defence, and whose peculiar regard is our glory, who in adversity consoles, in weakness sustains us, and from whom we receive every good and perfect gift, we owe, especially, our adoration and thanks. This obligation is equally peremptory to nations and individuals. No organization of men, no condition of society, no form of government can release a people from their duties to God, nor should the seductions of power, the lust of ambition, nor the splendour of renown, render them forgetful of the sacred privilege of addressing to the throne of grace and mercy the language of thanksgiving and praise.

These truths apply to us, as a nation, with especial force. With  political institutions wisely adapted to our welfare and happiness, a country abounding with resources for individual prosperity, and national independence, a climate dispensing health and vigor, and a land yielding to the hand of toil a fruitful abundance; under the gracious superintendence of a righteous Providence, we have arisen in half a century from the condition of an infant and dependent nation, and have become a great and powerful people. In the necessary, yet dangerous struggles to enlarge our proportions, to develope our resources, and defend our rights, in the conflicts resulting from foreign and domestic intercourse, influenced by opposing interests and national jealousies in the balancing of powers belonging to the different branches of the national government, and settling the boundaries between reserved and conferred authority, our institutions have been preserved, our national character vindicated, and our liberties secured and perpetuated. To Him, whose “hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear,” all praise, and all glory are due.

The present condition of our country should awaken our most profound gratitude. The war in which we were recently engaged, has terminated, and our citizen-soldiers have returned to their homes, crowned with imperishable honours. We mourn, indeed, the loss of many brave men, who fell in battle, or by pestilence, but we have the consolation to know, that they offered up their lives in the service of their country. Their deeds will be remembered and their memories cherished by their admiring countrymen. The arts of peace have succeeded the clangour of war, and the spectacle is presented of twenty millions of people, reposing under the shadow of free institutions, alarmed by no danger without, agitated by no convulsions within their borders.

When we compare our favoured country with the condition of unhappy Europe, the mind is furnished with lessons of wisdom, and the heart instructed in humility and reverence. There a down-trodden and long-enduring people have awakened from the apathy of bondage, and are teaching their oppressors <<407>>the “ill husbandry of injustice.” It is a lesson which must be written in blood. Hence we behold crowns trampled under foot, thrones overturned and empires wrested from their possessors; hence we see the desolation of kingdoms, the destitution of famishing nations, and hear the lamentations of suffering humanity. A righteous, a just God, in the exercise of omnipotent power, has preserved us from these awful calamities. We are in the enjoyment of a government of our choice; which, while it affords protection, dispenses with an even hand the fruits of civil and religious liberty. These are manifold and precious. We enjoy the delights of peace, and reap in profusion the blessings it distributes. Plenty crowns the labours of the field, and from the rich returns of our harvest, the destitute of distant lands have been fed. Throughout our extended country, neither the murmurs of discontent, nor the voice of mourning, nor the cries of want are heard, for, “our ways are ways of pleasantness, and all our paths are peace.”

In the midst of these unnumbered blessings, is it not our duty, will it not be our pleasure to return to Him, from whom they flow, the homage of our adoration, and the acknowledgment of our gratitude! To His mercy, in our unworthiness, we are indebted for the munificence of His favour: to His gracious and loving kindness must be attributed the continuance of our national prosperity.

Entertaining these sentiments, and deeply sensible of the necessity of Divine aid, to guide and guard us in the path of duty, I do hereby appoint Thursday, the 23d day of November next, its a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God, and do earnestly recommend to the people of the State of Pennsylvania, that it be set apart, by all denominations of Christians within this Commonwealth, as a day devoted to thanksgiving, prayer, and praise; and that they abstain on that day, as far as practicable, from worldly employment, assemble at their respective places of public worship, acknowledge their transgressions, supplicate, through the merits of the Redeemer, the forgiveness of sins, and with contrite hearts, render to his holy name the homage of adoration, thanksgiving and praise.

Given under my hand and the Great Seal of State at Harrisburg, this twenty-eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-eight, and of the Commonwealth the seventy-third.

Townsend Haines,
Secretary of the Commonwealth.

By the Governor.

As may be readily believed, the proclamation attracted the notice of other persons besides our own, and gave rise to several newspaper paragraphs, one of which (written by Mr. A. T. Jones of our city), we give in this connexion, exhibiting the grounds why no distinction should have been made between the different residents of Pennsylvania.

To Governor William F. Johnston.

If the voice of one whose distinction it is to have been born among the “Remnant of Israel,” dwelling in this land of liberty, can reach the Executive chamber, it would be a proud satisfaction. As Israelites, we have felt aggrieved that your Excellency, the chief magistrate of this State, should have deemed it proper to appoint a day on which “all denominations of Christians” only are recommended to offer their prayers and thanksgivings to the throne of grace, and respectfully ask why we (although a very limited number, it is true), should be excluded by the worded form of a public document from uniting with our Christian brethren on that one day in the grateful act of acknowledging the infinite glory of the Heavenly Father of all, as exhibited in boundless blessings bestowed upon us. The Jewish religion has established for its followers their own peculiar seasons for prayers and re<<408>>joicings, yet no class of citizens have more generally and religiously observed the day set apart by the executive officers of the State in all former proclamations. On all occasions when our temples are open for public worship, do we raise the voice of prayer to the Almighty that the blessing of Divine wisdom and protection be extended to the Governor and officers of our Commonwealth.

“Do “all demoninations of Christians” do more?

Israelites never forget to pray for their rulers—yet your excellency seems to have no recollection of their existence, or treat them as though they were not worthy of it. Does not the light of the same sun shine on Jew and Christian with equal glory,—do not the storms of Heaven visit both with alike severity? They share together the same prosperity and experience the same reverses. Thanks to our glorious constitution, they are found side by side in the council chamber, and in the field. We have fought and bled with our fellow-citizens in the battles of our common country, (there were no religious differences there)—braved the same period—rejoiced at the same great triumphs, and have suffered and died together, in the cause of our beloved land.

The Federal constitution acknowledges no one religion in preference to another; they why not, (forgetting their religious existence,) address the people of this Commonwealth as a band of brothers,—as worshippers of one God.—as co-habitants of a happy and prosperous land, where “all men are born free and equal.”

But every evil has its good effects also, and we have in the present instance to thank the uncourteous wording of the proclamation of the Secretary of State for the following acknowledgement of our merits taken from the North American and United States Gazette, the leading commercial paper of the State, and one warm in the cause of the political party to which the Governor belongs. Of course in quoting it our readers will understand we have nothing to do with the political sentiments it shadows forth; as we only touch on politics so far as they concern our rights, nothing more.

The Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Our Locofoco contemporaries are in ecstacies of delight and affected indignation at Governor Johnston’s late proclamation appointing a day of thanksgiving and prayer, which, because of its special designation of “all denominations of Christians,” and reference to “the merits of the Redeemer,” they profess to regard as an intended insult to the Israelites, our fellow-citizens. We take it for granted that the latter appreciate the suggestion and understand its object. The proclamation certainly, though fervently and beautifully written, contained an error in seeming to exclude the Israelites from an invitation meant to embrace all the worshippers of God in a common call; but such errors are perhaps venial, since they are not altogether uncommon. It will be remembered that the late Governor Shunk once committed a similar one, which was the occasion of comment at the time; but not, we believe, of any misconception of cause or motive. In fact, we suppose that Governor Shunk had about as much—or as little—to do with the inadvertence in his proclamation, as Governor Johnston had with that in his. Such proclamations, we need scarcely state, are seldom written by governors themselves, but prepared to their hands by subordinate officers, like other official papers, to be executed by them, or for them, where the case admits. It is very well known that Governor Johnston has been canvassing the State, presenting himself personally as a candidate to the people in various parts of the Commonwealth; and, for aught we know, he may have been absent from Har<<409>>risburg at the time of the proclamation. At all events, it is very certain that neither Governor Shunk nor Governor Johnston could even have designed any invidious exclusion of any religious class of their fellow-citizens—assuredly of none so respectable, so orderly and law-loving, so noted for the strength and fidelity of their religious attachments, as the Israelites—from the privilege of bending the knee in adoration before the common Father and Ruler of the whole human family.N. A. and U. S. Gazette, October 9.

This however was not all; because on learning that the Governor was in the city one of our members addressed him a note which elicited a strong disclaimer from him; we also subjoin the correspondence as a part of the history of the day, especially as it was considered of sufficient importance by the Governor’s friends to publish it in a large handbill on the day of the general election, the 10th of last month.

Philadelphia, Oct. 8th, 1848.

To his Excellency, Governor W. F. Johnston.

Sir.—In this Commonwealth the Israelites are supposed to exceed in number 15,000 souls.

In this city alone there are nearly 10,000 worshipping in five holy temples the “Almighty God.”

Your proclamation seems entirely to have lost sight of these undeviating followers of the Holy Bible.

The only object of the present communication is to solicit from you a reply to the questions, whether it is intended that the 23d day of November “be set apart” by the Israelites; or that they be expected on that day “to follow their worldly employment.”

Your compliance with the above request at your earliest convenience, will oblige

 Yours, very respectfully,
J. L. Moss

Philadelphia, Oct. 9th, 1848.

Joseph L. Moss, Esq.

My Dear Sir.—Firmly persuaded of the truth of the religious faith of which I am an humble and unworthy believer, and that faith teaching me, that next to the veneration of Almighty God, charity and brotherly love are among the highest duties I owe to my fellow-beings, I cannot permit you to suppose that the spirit of intolerance has a place within my bosom.

The proclamation for Thanksgiving was ordered by me in compliance with a custom heretofore existing, (and which I cordially approve.) The terms of

its composition or its phraseology were not designated by me. It was issued by the Secretary of State during my absence, and I presumed would be in the usual form.

I regret that its terms should appear to exclude any of my fellow-citizens who worship an “Almighty God.” The omission was certainly accidental. To the Israelites, among whom I have the honour to class many personal and political friends, I could mean no disrespect, or desire to exclude them from the performance of the sacred duty of thanksgiving and praise.

I now invite, through you, that venerable people to the appointed fast, thanksgiving and praise, with the assurance that their steady virtue, uprightness of conduct, and devotion to their religious faith, entitle them to a high place in the regard of their fellow-citizens.

<<410>>Be kind enough to receive the foregoing as an answer to your letter of the 8th inst., and believe me.

Truly your friend,
Wm. F. Johnston.

Now in conclusion, we have to point out a few errors in Mr. Moss’s letter’ there are but four Synagogues in Philadelphia; our population in town may be 3000, certainly not much more, and we doubt whether the whole number of those scattered through the State exceed 1200 souls. But we cannot say any thing positive in the absence of all statistics. Still as numbers have no value in this matter, it would be the same were there but five Jews in the State, in place of ten congregations, and about 5000 souls. With these remarks we close for the present.