With his Thanksgiving proclamation Tuesday, President Obama was continuing a tradition that dates back to George Washington, who issued the first such address in 1789.
In it, the father of our country said: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789 that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind care and protection.”
The tradition of executive expressions of gratitude continued even in our nation’s darkest hour, when President Abraham Lincoln recognized the blessings bestowed upon a country “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.” His 1863 proclamation spoke of Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity for all Americans to humble themselves before God and offer thanks for a year “filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”
Lincoln said the nation should observe “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Today, in the wake of an election that illustrated again a great division in our nation, we hope all Americans will remember such disagreements are not new. In fact, they’re part of our long tradition. America has been through contentious times before, fought over issues big and small, and has not only survived but thrived.
Our Founding Fathers had fundamental disagreements over nearly every issue before them — even Thanksgiving.
Thomas Jefferson declared Washington’s idea of a day of thanksgiving “Silly. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
And a century after Lincoln declared it a national holiday, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, members of Congress and several governors were still in disagreement about which day in November it should be celebrated.
Roosevelt sided with businessmen who, in 1939, wanted to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November so there would be an additional week of Christmas shopping. Sixteen states refused. So for three years, Thanksgiving was celebrated on two different dates throughout the nation. After heated debate, Congress in 1941 officially made the fourth Thursday in November the legal holiday.
Today, we find Roosevelt’s 1941 Thanksgiving proclamation to be quite appropriate:
“On this day ... let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.”
Amen to that.
We thank you for reading the News-Journal and pray that God will continue to bless you.