Tuesday, November 21, 2006


In just a few days, people throughout this great country will take a moment to sit together and give thanks for the blessings, large and small, bestowed upon them during the past year. Many will enjoy family, friends, and good food while they accept a welcome a respite from the perils of everyday life. This American tradition began four centuries ago in the settlements in New England. In the early 1620s, the pilgrims who came to this land to begin life anew set aside a day towards years end to thank God for the harvest that would allow for their survival through the harsh winters to come.

A century and a half would pass when, on October 3, 1789, after enduring years of warfare, privation, and loss, President George Washington offered the following proclamation to the young nation he so faithfully served.

"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness." Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be."

Seventy four years later, President Abraham Lincoln served a nation torn apart by internecine war. Hundreds of thousands had died. Others would never again be whole. Those who had inherited the young nation threatened to destroy what their founding fathers had fought so hard to create. The American Civil War saw several ideologies bitterly struggling to define the type of nation within which their children would live. Despite the carnage and catastrophe, President Lincoln sought to bring the people of his wounded land together. He strove to emphasize the positive during a time so many had experienced overwhelming suffering and loss. On October 3, 1863, the same day Washington had issued his proclamation three quarters of a century earlier, Abraham Lincoln would address the American people.

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln"



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All original material Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved

Library of Congress
US Senate: History of Thanksgiving
Classical Library


Regina said...

I pray on this Thanksgiving holiday that whoever is going to be elected President in 2008 is not only a student of history, but is reading and absorbing what you have been writing on your blog and website. Is there anyone like a Washington or Lincoln out there anywhere ? Let's hope

Randy said...

I would hope that whoever occupies the White House would hold sacred the history of this country and work to preserve what remains of our shared past.