Thursday, November 24, 2011

God and Thanksgiving Proclamations

I was searching around the Internet looking for the Thanksgiving proclamations by U.S. Presidents and came across this great article on

From the article:

While Lincoln issued the proclamation, credit for making Thanksgiving a national holiday should go to Sarah J. Hale, the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a popular magazine for women in 19th century America.

Hale, who campaigned for years to make Thanksgiving a nationally observed holiday, wrote to Lincoln on September 28, 1863 and urged him to issue a proclamation. Hale mentioned in her letter that having such a national day of Thanksgiving would establish a "great Union Festival of America."

With the United States in the depths of the Civil War, perhaps Lincoln was attracted to the idea of a holiday unifying the nation. At that time Lincoln was also contemplating delivering an address on the purpose of the war which would become the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln wrote a proclamation, which was issued on October 3, 1863.

The proclamation, printed below, clearly evokes the emotions Lincoln must have been feeling as he strove to preserve a magnificent nation, yet one that was embroiled in a civil war. I was struck by his description of the nation itself - its bounty and greatness - in the midst of the "waste" of human life on the battlefield.

And struck, too, by his gratitude to God for the bounty and blessings.

The year that is drawing toward 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 the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, 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 theater of military conflict; while that theater 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 plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has 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 battlefield, 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 one 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 Stated 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.

Abraham Lincoln

President George Washington, likewise, gave God the glory, stating in his proclamation that it is the "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..." His proclamation, issued Oct. 3, 1789:

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

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 thanksgiving 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-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

An image of the actual document is available here.

President George W. Bush used such phrases as the following in his proclamations for this day:

* We recognize that all of these blessings, and life itself, come not from the hand of man but from Almighty God.

* On this day, let us all give thanks to God who blessed our Nation's first days and who blesses us today. May He continue to guide and watch over our families and our country always.

* In thankfulness and humility, we acknowledge, especially now, our dependence on One greater than ourselves.

* May Almighty God, who is our refuge and our strength in this time of trouble, watch over our homeland, protect us, and grant us patience, resolve, and wisdom in all that is to come.

* We also thank God for the blessings of freedom and prosperity; and, with gratitude and humility, we acknowledge the importance of faith in our lives.

* Our country was founded by men and women who realized their dependence on God and were humbled by His providence and grace.

Giving thanks to the Almighty is what this day is all about. So I find it strange that President Barack Obama's proclamations, when they do mention God, seem to do so only in passing.

His 2009 proclamation mentions God only in quoting President Washington.

In 2010, he did use the following:

* "...bow our heads in humble recognition of the providence bestowed upon our Nation."

* "As we stand at the close of one year and look to the promise of the next, we lift up our hearts in gratitude to God for our many blessings, for one another, and for our Nation."

* "...let us rejoice ... in the gifts of a gracious God."

And this year, the 2011 proclamation has only one reference to God, though it appears to be on equal footing with "each other":

As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives.

Our founding fathers knew that our rights were a gift from God, inherent in us and not by virtue of any government or king. They openly proclaimed their belief that God's guidance was on them and our nation as it strove to become the beacon of freedom and liberty in the world. As Lincoln said:

"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..."

Our presidents, despite whatever their personal beliefs might have been, have always expressed gratitude to God (the Almighty, the Supreme Being or by whatever name He is called) on this day, as that was the intent.

So no matter what this president writes, let us remember - today and always - that, whatever our individual situation, we owe our thanks to God - and to our predecessors' faith in Him, and His goodness toward us and our nation.

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