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by F. Marie Foley

            Thanksgiving is not a day for being thankful only for the present. It is a time for looking backward on yesterday and thinking forward to tomorrow. I think of Thanksgiving as a day that serves as a bridge from the past to a hopeful future. I believe this is how   Abraham Lincoln perceived the day when on October 3, 1863, he signed the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s National Day of Thanksgiving.

 I have to admit that until recently I had not read the 1863 proclamation. I would encourage every American to read it. Like my ten year old grandson most of us when we think of Thanksgiving think of 1621 and the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims established the first settlements in New England, and laid the foundation of civil and religious liberty in the New World. Despite the hardships of the first year they were moved to set aside a time for giving thanks to God for bringing them safely to their new home, sparing their colony from perishing and providing an ample harvest.

 Sarah Hale, a well known editor wrote to President Lincoln urging him to make a National and fixed day of Thanksgiving. The document that Lincoln signed sets apart the last Thursday of November” as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise”. We now observe Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

 On October, 3, 1863 when Lincoln signed the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, America was engaged in a civil war that separated families and the country as a whole. In the proclamation Lincoln refers to the past, present and the blessings thereof, and believes that in spite of the present war, the future holds for his country, peace, harmony and tranquility. He says all of these blessings come from a merciful God who had brought the young nation thus far, that “no human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.” Like Lincoln I believe discouragement is never found in a grateful heart. Past blessings encourage faith in future mercies.

 We are thankful for past generations who have lived and died to protect our freedom and for those who are living, suffering and dying today to do the same. With Lincoln, we too, “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers” in the sacrifice of securing a nation, still so very young, who desires freedom, not only for itself, but for the world. 

This Thanksgiving let us demonstrate the truth of the words of Psalm 92: “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord”.



Proclamation of Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

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, tranquility 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




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