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A happy Thanksgiving to my American readers, wherever you might be today.

In case you missed my 2009 posts on the subject, here is one dated November 25 and the other from November 26.

Last year, I ran across a thought-provoking post from Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason Radio.  It is a transcript of a 1994 broadcast he gave about this special day.

He discusses Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, which we’ll get to in a moment.  But, first, here is what Koukl said after he read out the proclamation (emphases mine throughout):

We have set aside the day. On that day all over this country the post offices are closed, banks are closed, people observe the national holiday. But are they observing the holiday that Abraham Lincoln instituted in 1863? No, not quite.

Abraham Lincoln, in his official capacity as president, acknowledged that we owe everything to God. He called on us to humble ourselves in penitence for our disobedience, confess our sins with contrition, ask for God’s mercy and give Him praise for his love, for all of His care for us. This is not the Thanksgiving our country now officially observes, for it is de facto illegal for those under the color of governmental authority to take the initiative to honor God in this way.

Yes, as wonderful as Thanksgiving celebrations are, they are largely a secular affair.  Food, football and, for the kids, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  How many people attend church services on this day or say special prayers at home as a family?  I haven’t mentioned solemn civic commemorations nationwide, as Koukl notes:

We can’t do that anymore …

My point is to show how far removed the present atmosphere of the so-called “separation of church and state” is from what was understood by our forefathers. The current practice is not the original notion of non-establishment that the Bill of Rights mandates, and Lincoln’s comments make this clear.

Notice how natural it was for someone like the president of our country–many would say the greatest president our country has ever seen (and probably the saddest)–in the midst of an agonizing trial of national proportions–the civil war–to call the nation to repentance, prayer, and thanksgiving to God.

What a man. And what a change we have gone through since then to now.

Last year, I reproduced George Washington’s Proclamation of General Thanksgiving from 1789.  President Washington mandated a day of general thanksgiving and prayer — for the peaceful government which the newly-independent nation enjoyed, civil and religious liberty, the support of its foreign allies and for general prosperity — all of which he acknowledged came through God’s grace.

Koukl introduces the background to Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, which truly established it an annual national holiday:

In mid-1863 the tide of the war had just turned. Gettysburg was the turning point in early July–the 1st, 2nd , and 3rd of 1963–and on the 4th Vicksburg fell under Grant after a long five or six month siege there. It was a bad week for the South. So there was a big turning point in July and things started going the way of the Union. There was plenty to give thanks for, in a sense. Yet at the same time there was a bloody war continuing, and lives were still being lost. It would two more years of unimaginable carnage before the Civil War would end.

In the midst of this difficult time, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and he did so with these words. [Read] closely, especially in light of the present atmosphere of so-called separation of church and state.

Koukl took the text below from Roy P Basler’s The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.

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 defense, 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 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 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

President Lincoln’s is an eloquent reminder of God’s blessings, even in an imperfect, conflict-driven world.  Would that American politicians, following the example of two of the nation’s greatest presidents, encourage this type of reflection more often.

A footnote on William Henry Seward, whom you might recall from history class.  Alaskans can be thankful for his foresight during his service in President Andrew Johnson’s administration:

An outspoken opponent of the spread of slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War, he was a dominant figure in the Republican Party in its formative years, and was widely regarded as the leading contender for the party’s presidential nomination in 1860 – yet his very outspokenness may have cost him the nomination. Despite his loss, he became a loyal member of Lincoln’s wartime cabinet, and played a role in preventing foreign intervention early in the war.[1] On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, he survived an attempt on his life in the conspirators’ effort to decapitate the Union government. As Johnson’s Secretary of State, he engineered the purchase of Alaska from Russia in an act that was ridiculed at the time as “Seward’s Folly“, but which somehow exemplified his character. His contemporary Carl Schurz described Seward as “one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints.”[2]

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