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.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States
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.
The first is its timing: October 3, 1863. The nation had already endured two years of appalling carnage on the battlefields of the Civil War. And although Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg seemed to mark a turning point in favor of the Union, there was no clear light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, much more blood would be shed in the months ahead.
And yet President Lincoln paused at this time of unimaginable crisis not only to urge Americans to give thanks, but to note how blessed our nation is. "The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies," the first sentence reads. He lists those blessings in terms so strong and soaring one could almost forget this was one of our nation’s darkest hours.
Nearly 150 years later, this is a perspective check. If Lincoln could encourage his fellow Americans to give thanks at such a bleak time, how can any of us complain about our lot? How can we read about polls that suggest our best days are behind us, that all we can do is manage our "inevitable" decline? What nonsense.
That's not to say we don’t have difficulties. We do -- serious ones. And no, the answer isn’t to crack a phony smile and pretend everything’s great. We need to do what past generations have done: look our problems squarely in the eye, roll up our sleeves and get the job done. We make mistakes, but we learn from them. But to give up? No. Such a defeatist attitude is unworthy of a free people.
The second aspect of Lincoln's proclamation that's sometimes forgotten is the reason given for the holiday. To give thanks, yes, but not just in general -- to give thanks to God. "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things," he writes. "They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
Whoa -- hold on there. Somebody get the ACLU. How un-PC can a president get? Wasn’t Lincoln worried that he might offend some of his listeners?
Hardly. He was following in the hallowed footsteps of George Washington. Notice the date of Lincoln’s proclamation: October 3. On that same day in 1789, the nation’s first president gave his Thanksgiving proclamation. And like Lincoln, he was clear about who deserved our gratitude.
Washington called that day on all Americans to observe a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer" devoted 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."
This shouldn't surprise anyone. "Of the many influences that shaped the American concept of liberty, the first and most formative was faith," writes author and Washington scholar Matthew Spalding. The Founding Fathers knew the First Amendment didn’t forbid public mention of God. It simply meant there could be no official state church.
They also knew that, whatever church an American belonged to, he ought to give thanks to Almighty God. Not because we're living in some heaven on earth -- that's impossible. But because despite our problems, we're incredibly blessed. We live in a land that recognizes our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In a world beset with death, tyranny, disease and famine, that's nothing short of a miracle.
We need to act like we believe that. And the best way to start is to say thanks.
Edwin J. Feulner
President, The Heritage Foundation