Opinion: Thanksgiving wishes from Lincoln, Truman, Reagan and -- now -- Obama
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On Thanksgiving, our most home-grown of holidays, we at The Ticket would like to offer you a helping of history along with that turkey.
We call it the Ghost of Thanksgiving Past. It’s a collection of some of the more interesting presidential proclamations relating to the holiday.
Most schoolchildren in this country know that the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621, when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians feasted together to celebrate the burgeoning colony’s first successful harvest.
But it wasn’t a national holiday until 1863, when, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November 1863:
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 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, tranquility, and union. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Thanksgiving as we know it -- as a federal holiday when banks go dark and mailboxes sit empty -- wasn’t created until 1941. The proclamations released by presidents often reflect their beliefs and interests, or events of the time.
In 1945, President Harry S. Truman issued a proclamation giving thanks for the end of World War II. It said in part:
In this year of our victory, absolute and final, over German fascism and Japanese militarism; in this time of peace so long awaited, which we are determined with all the United Nations to make permanent; on this day of our abundance, strength, and achievement; let us give thanks to Almighty Providence for these exceeding blessings.... We give thanks with the humility of free men, each knowing it was the might of no one arm but of all together by which we were saved. Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world. In unity we found our first weapon, for without it, both here and abroad, we were doomed. None have known this better than our very gallant dead, none better than their comrade, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Our thanksgiving has the humility of our deep mourning for them, our vast gratitude to them.
The proclamation by Ronald Reagan in 1982 reflected his vision of America. An excerpt:
I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom. Our pioneers asked that He would work His will in our daily lives so America would be a land of morality, fairness, and freedom. Today we have more to be thankful for than our pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day could ever dream.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton also celebrated the nation’s peace and prosperity, adding that the holiday also is a reminder of the need to help others. He said in part:
But the spirit of Thanksgiving requires more than just an acknowledgment of our blessings; it calls upon us to reach out and share those blessings with others. We must strive to fulfill the promise of the extraordinary era in which we live and enter the new century with a commitment to widen the circle of opportunity, break down the prejudices that alienate us from one another, and build an America of understanding and inclusion, strong in our diversity, responsible in our freedom, and generous in sharing our bounty with those in need.
Oh, those blissful, pre-recessionary days. President Obama, continuing the practice of his predecessors, this week released his first Thanksgiving proclamation (see below).
We at The Ticket wish you the very best. Happy Thanksgiving.
-- Kate Linthicum
What began as a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities nearly four centuries ago has become our cherished tradition of Thanksgiving. This day’s roots are intertwined with those of our nation, and its history traces the American narrative.
Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed ‘by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,’ and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured nation in the midst of civil war.
We also recognize the contributions of Native Americans, who helped the early colonists survive their first harsh winter and continue to strengthen our nation. From our earliest days of independence, and in times of tragedy and triumph, Americans have come together to celebrate Thanksgiving.
As Americans, we hail from every part of the world. While we observe traditions from every culture, Thanksgiving Day is a unique national tradition we all share. Its spirit binds us together as one people, each of us thankful for our common blessings.
As we gather once again among loved ones, let us also reach out to our neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand. This is a time for us to renew our bonds with one another, and we can fulfill that commitment by serving our communities and our nation throughout the year. In doing so, we pay tribute to our country’s men and women in uniform who set an example of service that inspires us all. Let us be guided by the legacy of those who have fought for the freedoms for which we give thanks, and be worthy heirs to the noble tradition of goodwill shown on this day.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 26, 2009, as a National Day of Thanksgiving.
I encourage all the people of the United States to come together, whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place where family, friends and neighbors may gather, with gratitude for all we have received in the past year; to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own; and to share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
/s/ BARACK OBAMA
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