I came across President Lincoln’s “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” several years ago. For a few years I read it before we ate our Thanksgiving meal. Like many things, it got overlooked in recent years and I forgot about until recently. Last week Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and there has been much said about what a magnificent speech it was. Those words still inspire and remind us who we are as American people, and the struggles we continue to endure together as a society as we look to our future.
The words of Lincoln below – less famous than the Gettysburg Address – also inspire and seem to transcend time. We live in post-industrial digital age while Lincoln lived in a pre-industrial agricultural one. Thank God we no longer live with the evils of slavery, even though its shadows still tend to linger among us. What still speaks to us in this time is our continued political division, the realization that our work toward liberty and union seems never quite complete, and that as a nation we are uniquely positioned to hope and work toward the goals of freedom.
What we tend to forget in our time is God’s providence and provision. We tend to look only to ourselves for inspiration. But to truly give thanks is to point to beyond ourselves. As people of faith we point to another who has not only lavished us with all good things, but also provides courage and strength to persevere through our heartaches, suffering and loss and yet retain hope. Remember God’s blessing and faithfulness this Thanksgiving as you gather around your table.
I urge you in your prayers around the table to not only remember what you are thankful for – but to also remember those who struggle and are close to losing hope. You may be the answer to their prayer. We soon enter the season of Advent as we continue to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Pray boldly. Our world needs a savior desperately.
I also urge you to read aloud Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. It can be instructive. It can generate conversation. It can open the stories of days long before us as we remember our history and think about the future.
God bless you this Thanksgiving.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:11-18)
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
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 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 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 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 battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness 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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
(“Proclamation of Thanksgiving” Abraham Lincoln Online. Online Available: