Thanksgiving Thoughts by Mark Twain

November 27, 2019

We thought it would be appropriate to share an excerpt from our book of primary sources, First Person American from a writer was often called the American, Mark Twain. This is the actual speech he gave to shocked New Englanders during a Thanksgiving banquet in 1881.

“Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims” by Mark Twain

I rise to protest. I have kept still for years, but really I think there is no sufficient justification for this sort of thing. What do you want to celebrate these people for? What was remarkable about them, I would like to know? To be celebrating the mere landing of the Pilgrims—to be trying to make out that this was an extraordinary circumstance to be amazed at and admired, aggrandized, and glorified at orgies like this for two hundred and sixty years—hang it, a horse would have known enough to land.

The Pilgrims took good care of themselves, but they abolished everybody else’s ancestors. I am a border-ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. But where are my ancestors? Whom shall I celebrate?

My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian. Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. I stand here, lone and forlorn, without an ancestor. They skinned him! And before company! Think how he must have felt; for he was a sensitive person and easily embarrassed. If he had been a bird, it would have been all right and no violence done to his feelings because he would have been considered “dressed.” But he was not a bird, gentlemen, he was a man, and probably one of the most undressed men that ever was. I ask you to put yourselves in his place.

All those Salem witches were ancestors of mine! Your people made it tropical for them. Yes, they did; by pressure and the gallows they made such a clean deal with them that there hasn’t been a witch in our family from that day to this.

The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your progenitors was an ancestor of mine—for I am of a mixed breed, an infinitely shaded and exquisite Mongrel. My complexion is the patient art of eight generations.

O my friends, hear me and reform! I seek your good, not mine. Hear me, I beseech you; get up an auction and sell Plymouth Rock! The Pilgrims were a simple and ignorant race. They never had seen any good rocks before, so they were excusable for hopping ashore in frantic delight and clapping an iron fence around this one. But you, gentlemen, are educated; you are enlightened; you know that in the rich land of your nativity, opulent New England, overflowing with rocks, this one isn’t worth, at the outside, more than thirty-five cents. Therefore, sell it, before it is injured by exposure. Yes, hear your true friend—your only true friend—disband these societies, hotbeds of vice, of moral decay—perpetuators of ancestral superstition. I beseech you, I implore you, in the name of your anxious friends, in the name of your suffering families, in the name of your impending widows and orphans, stop ere it be too late. Disband these New England societies, cease from varnishing the rusty reputations of your long vanished ancestors—the super-high-moral old iron-clads of Cape Cod, the pious buccaneers of Plymouth Rock. Go home and learn to behave!

Thanks, Sam

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