Two dollars backside

The Founding Fathers Approved This Message

For many Americans there will be less to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Many will be without jobs. Some are genuinely frightened about the future. There seems to be a division in our nation that is real and troubling.

Since many feel our country is in peril I decided to see how our leaders addressed Thanksgiving in other difficult and trying times. There has been much debate about the religious inclinations of our founding fathers. But the first official Thanksgiving Proclamation came from the Continental Congress way back in 1777.

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

I don’t see a lot of ambiguity in that statement. That proclamation did not seem to indicate in any way that religion must be segregated from public discourse.

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America. Here is the first paragraph of that document.

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. 

Washington issued Thanksgiving proclamations at other times during his Presidency as did his successor John Adams. James Madison renewed the Thanksgiving proclamation during the War of 1812 ‘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.’

After Madison there were no Presidential proclamations about Thanksgiving until 1863. In that year Abraham Lincoln faced perhaps the most difficult crisis in our country’s existence.

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 defence, 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.

I understand that many in this country are uncomfortable with faith and politics. I can understand the concern that some might wish to force faith upon others. What I can’t understand is the often hostile denial of the role faith has played in the history of our nation. What I can’t understand is why some wish to completely discount how our leaders often offered eloquent faith based statements in times of crisis. I have no interest in forcing my Christian beliefs on anyone. In fact, my beliefs teach me that I cannot force them on others. My faith is based on an individual making his or her own decision about God, who Jesus said He is and what that means to them. That is how Christianity works. I do have an interest in keeping the religious freedoms that our country has always promoted.

I suspect our founding fathers would be surprised and dismayed that we have become so divided over partisan issues. I imagine they would be frustrated that we seem to be becoming a nation of victims instead of a nation of personal liberty and independence. I wonder if they would be angry with our stewardship of this grand experiment of democracy? I will take time to give thanks and to pray for the days that lie ahead for this nation. And I will remember the words of Lincoln.

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.

I am thankful that He remembers mercy. Enjoy the blessings that God has provided this Thanksgiving. But take a moment to reflect on how truly blessed we are in this country. What does the Lord delight in? It is not our wealth or power or position.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

We have much to be thankful for in this nation. Let us be especially prayerful and grateful this year.