Monthly Archives: November 2013

Words of 2 Presidents: Hearts of Thanksgiving

In two of my past Thanksgiving posts I refer to the origins of Thanksgiving as a “community” celebration and my reflections on the real significance of this special holiday.  You can read those posts by going to: Thanksgiving a State of Mind-an Expression of Faith and/or Thanksgiving: a Time of Reflection. But I became aware of the actual words of two of our early presidents who were responsible for the call to our nation to observe a day of thanksgiving, and their personal faith which led them to such national proclamations. We certainly have a heritage of faith.

George Washington authorized the first Thanksgiving Day in 1789. Seventy-four years later Abraham Lincoln established the holiday as an annual event in the United States of America.

Our early Presidents were not hesitant to share words of their personal faith; political correctness did not enter their minds. They were not concerned that the Supreme Court or any other court would sensor them for infringing on “separation of church and state”: they understood the difference between personal religious beliefs and government mandated religion.

George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s 1789 proclamation follows:

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 and 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 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 enable 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 has 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 shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

Abraham LincolnLincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation, coming from the lips of a very controversial President at a time of great national turmoil, is also totally awe-inspiring.

 “It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scripture and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God 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 as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Abraham Lincoln

This proclamation was written and delivered in the midst of the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Both Washington and Lincoln led our country through troubling and challenging times. Their reliance on God is so totally evident. How much do we also need this same attitude of reliance on and gratitude to God, as our country faces new crises of human suffering, discouragement, and the need to find our way through a maze of confusion and doubt. Let the Scripture encouarge us:

Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 106:1

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20

May we all remember during this Thanksgiving season to express gratitude for all of God’s many blessings on us as individuals and as a nation. Think about reading these two proclamations to your dinner guests, or whomever you may gather with this Thanksgiving Day.

©2013, Marcy Alves

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