I have admired President Lincoln as a figure for a long time. My alma mater even dedicated a statue to him (pictured here) and Secretary John Hay the year I graduated from Carthage College in 1997.
Last week I saw the new Lincoln movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis. I highly recommend it. It was very well written, acted and produced.
As I approach this week, I remembered it was Lincoln who established Thanksgiving as an “official” holiday on all of our calendars on the fourth Thursday in November. I looked up the proclamation Lincoln gave to make such a pronouncement. It came only a few months after the horrors of what happened in the little town of Gettysburg in July of 1863, immortalized in our American psyche not only by the blood shed over the course of three days (51,112 killed, injured or missing – 23,049 Union and 28,063 Confederate) but also by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that many of us learned in elementary school. Only a few months later, he called the nation to pause and give thanks for all that God continues to provide for all of us in the land. Lincoln’s legacy is not only one wrapped up in Civil War, the send of slavery in our country and his assassination at war’s end, but also the witness of gratitude amidst the darkest of times and most dire of circumstances. Wherever you find yourself on the political spectrum there is much to learn about giving thanks when things seem the most worrisome. I find in Lincoln a worthy example of such courage.
In our own time filled with many divisions, immediate challenges, and ongoing struggles, Lincoln’s words in his Thanksgiving Proclamation still hold weight. I invite you not only to consider them, but to share them at your tables tomorrow. Perhaps a discussion can ensue as you think about where we have been as a people over the last 236 years, and as you consider your last year too. Maybe you could also think about the places we continue to strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our current time as we approach the difficulties of these days. Lincoln seemed to pair the reality and hardships of his time and experience with hope and gratitude. I invite you to dwell upon that same paring as you faithfully gather, reflect, converse, and consider how God is still at work among us, calling upon each of us to make a difference in the lives of others. May God’s ongoing peace surround you and your loved ones over this Thanksgiving Holiday, may those who hunger find warmth, shelter, and a fulfilling meal, and may our constant prayer of Thanksgiving to God be this simple:
As we thank you O God for all you have given us;
Use us to care for all that you have made. Amen
The text of Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation follows:
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.
See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-24)