Thanksgiving – 2015

Last Year, we posted “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving Day“.

This year we quote from President James Madison’s 1815 Thanksgiving proclamation:

No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.

His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days.

Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition…

And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.

An early example of God’s kind providence for what has become the United States is the Patuxet native named Tisquantum, or Squanto. Eric Metaxas relates the miracle of Squanto’s life. The following is a Reader’s Digest version of Metaxas’s story:

Around 1608 an English crew captured a number of Patuxet warriors and sold them into slavery in Spain. One young man, Squanto, was bought by Catholic friars, who treated him well and freed him. Around 1612, Squanto stayed with John Slany in London and learned English customs and language. In 1618, Squanto returned home aboard a ship in return for his services as an interpreter.

After his 10 year journey, Squanto found that the Patuxets had perished from smallpox brought by European ships. Although he was spared from death through his kidnapping, he was not consoled. He tried living with an adjacent tribe but eventually lived alone in the woods.

In November of 1620, the Mayflower passengers, unable to reach Virginia, settled at Plymouth, the area where Squanto had grown up. They had come in search of religious freedom, hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.

However, half of them died during the terrible winter. They must have wondered how the God they trusted and followed could lead them to these grim circumstances. They considered returning to Europe.

In the spring of 1621, Squanto walked out of the woods to greet them. He spoke perfect English, having lived in London more recently than did the settlers. He knew everything about how to survive in Plymouth; not only how to plant corn and squash, but how to find fish, lobsters, eels, and much else.

The Pilgrims adopted Squanto as their own and he lived with them. He helped broker a peace with the local tribes that lasted 50 years, a staggering accomplishment considering the troubles settlers would face later.

So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims did not think so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God. Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God” who didn’t leave them “till he died [in 1622].”

Perhaps our reflection on this historical truth can dispel our current distrust of the direction in which we see our country headed.

The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving Day

Perhaps you’ve read these proclamations by Abraham Lincoln? I had not. Perhaps they mean nothing to you; perhaps they meant nothing to Abraham Lincoln or his Secretary of State, William Seward. But, even if they were just speechifying, these stand as powerful and stark words, even today.

Proclamation 97 — Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer – March 30, 1863

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Whereas the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has by a resolution requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation; and

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own 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 Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord;

And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? 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 behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this my proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace. In witness 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 30th day of March, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Citation: Abraham Lincoln: “Proclamation 97 – Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer,” March 30, 1863. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

The second proclamation sets forth a specific day for thanksgiving.

Proclamation 106 — Thanksgiving Day, 1863 – October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

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 can not 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 unequaled 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 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, tranquillity, 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 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Citation: Abraham Lincoln: “Proclamation 106 – Thanksgiving Day, 1863,” October 3, 1863. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

The third proclamation establishes the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Proclamation 118 — Thanksgiving Day, 1864 – October 20, 1864

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

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 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State .

Citation: Abraham Lincoln: “Proclamation 118 – Thanksgiving Day, 1864,” October 20, 1864. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

These proclamations, in their totality, are what the day should mean for the citizens of the United States of America.

Freedom From Want - Rockwell

FREEDOM FROM WANT — Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945), in the Public Domain