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Webster reason to give thanks
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In a nation with fewer and fewer shared experiences, one remains resilient, rich and redolent of memory. Thanksgiving is one of our most beloved American holidays, and its story -- about grace and gratitude, played out on a wilderness tableau of brotherhood -- is a venerated part of our national narrative.Its treasured place in our country's life -- a cultural oddity: a huge meal served at mid-afternoon on a Thursday -- is sometimes traced to the vision of Pilgrim leaders Myles Standish and William Bradford; or to the generosity of the Wampanoags, the native people who lived along Massachusetts Bay; or to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, who established Thanksgiving in the national calendar.But the real hero of Thanksgiving may be a former congressman whose speech two centuries after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth seared the word "Pilgrims" into the American conscience, reshaped their passage from Europe to America into a national parable, and transformed the 1621 feast of plenty into a feast of patriotism and optimism.It took Daniel Webster -- later a Whig senator and twice the nation's secretary of state -- one hour and 50 minutes to change, forever, the way we regard the Plymouth settlers and the way we mark Thanksgiving. These remarks, from perhaps the greatest American practitioner of the lost art of oratory, retain great power -- and great wisdom.