Monday, November 21, 2016

Proclaim Thanksgiving (1)

As Americans all over the country (myself among them) go on pilgrimage this week to visit family and friends, far and near, for our great and uniquely American Thanksgiving holiday, I have been reading and thinking about some of the more noteworthy presidential Thanksgiving proclamations issued these past 200+ years.

Actually, the very first national Thanksgiving proclamation came from the Second Continental Congress after the victory at the Battle of Saratoga, setting aside Thursday, December 18, 1777, for "Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise." Then, as the War for Independence was coming to an end, Congress proclaimed November 28, 1782, as another Thanksgiving Day. But it was George Washington who began the tradition of occasional presidential proclamations of Thanksgiving in 1789. John Adams and later James Madison followed suit, but then the tradition lapsed completely until revived by Abraham Lincoln during our Civil War. Since Lincoln, it has become an annual tradition, which every president has continued.

In his 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Washington designated Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Quite an agenda! But, notice, not one word about football, or Christmas shopping, or Thanksgiving as the eve of "Black Friday"!

Has "Thanksgiving" changed so much? Or is it we, the nation George Washington 'fathered," who have changed? Changed almost beyond recognition? Changed beyond even the possibility of repair?

(Photo: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first president I have any really serious memories of, carving a Thanksgiving turkey.)

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