From George Washington on, our presidents have reaffirmed every Thanksgiving our nation’s belief in what inspired the Pilgrims.
Thanksgiving Day is a great day of gratitude. However rich or poor we are, the tradition continues that Americans are grateful for all we have and the blessings bestowed on us.
Likewise, regular readers of this page also know that one of our traditions here on this holiday is more than giving thanks. We like to retell the story and roots of Thanksgiving. That history serves as a great reminder of who we are and how that amazing story of the Pilgrims became the seed of our nation’s founding principles — of religious freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We’ll add one more to that list: a national belief in God.
From George Washington on, our presidents in their Thanksgiving proclamations have re-affirmed that belief and the role of God in the signal events that have shaped our nation.
Here’s a sampling:
Nov. 26, 1789, declaring the first day of public thanksgiving
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 favour …
Now therefore, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH 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 favours 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 publick 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 …
Oct. 3, 1863, proclaiming the last Thursday of November a day of Thanksgiving and Praise
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 unequalled magnitude and severity, … 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 defence, 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 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 …
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.
Nov. 18, 1918, a week after the end of World War I
It has long been our custom to turn, in the autumn of the year, in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for his many blessing and mercies to us as a nation. This year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice. God has, in His good pleasure, given us peace.
It has not come as a mere cessation of arms, a mere relief from the strain and tragedy of war. It has come as a great triumph of right. Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day, as well, in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among the nations.
Our gallant armies … have won immortal glory and have nobly served their nation in serving mankind. God has indeed been gracious. We have cause for such rejoicing as revives and strengthens in us all the best traditions of our national history.
Nov. 22, 1945, after the end of World War II
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 have won them with the courage and the blood of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. We have won them by the sweat and ingenuity of our workers, farmers, engineers and industrialists. We have won them with the devotion of our women and children. We have bought them with the treasure of our rich land. But above all we have won them because we cherish freedom beyond riches and even more than life itself.
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.
… May we on this day, in our homes and in our places of worship, individually and as groups, express our humble thanks to Almighty God for the abundance of our blessings and may we rededicate ourselves to those high principles of citizenship for which so many splendid Americans have recently given all.
Nov. 29, 1963, in a Thanksgiving speech after John F. Kennedy’s assassination
Tonight, on this Thanksgiving, I come before you to ask your help, to ask your strength, to ask your prayers that God may guard this republic and guide my every labor.
All of us have lived through seven days that none of us will ever forget. We’re not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be — what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts.
A great leader is dead, a great nation must move on.
Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose. I am resolved that we shall win the tomorrows before us. So I ask you to join me in that resolve determined that from this midnight of tragedy we shall move toward a new American greatness.
More than any generation before us we have cause to be thankful, so thankful, on this Thanksgiving Day.
Our harvests are bountiful, our factories flourish, our homes are safe, our defenses are secure. We live in peace, the goodwill of the world pours out for us. But more than these blessings we know tonight that our system is strong — strong and secure. A deed that was meant to tear us apart has bound us together.
Our system has passed, you have passed, a great test. You have shown what John F. Kennedy called upon us to show in his proclamation of this Thanksgiving, that decency of purpose, that steadfastness of resolve, and that strength of will which we inherit from our forefathers.
What better conveys what is best for America than this.
Happy Thanksgiving. God bless America. — MW
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