Perhaps more than any other historical figure, Abraham Lincoln continues to shape the American psyche a century and a half after he lived. The success of Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, gives some indication of our continued fascination with the sixteenth President.
When we think of Thanksgiving, we usually think of Pilgrims and Indians gathered for a harvest feast at Plymouth, but it was Abraham Lincoln who gave us Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Prior to Lincoln, each state celebrated Thanksgiving on different dates according to the discretion of each state’s governor. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln issued a Presidential proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving.
After noting the many blessings of God in spite of the Civil War with all its suffering and severity, Lincoln wrote in his proclamation, “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.”
Ever since that proclamation in 1863 and the close of the Civil War in 1865, Americans have paused on a Thursday in November to reflect on God’s blessings with humility and thanksgiving.
Most are aware that Lincoln never joined a church. But it is abundantly clear that the one book that most shaped his thought was the Bible. References to Scripture can be found throughout his speeches and conversations. And his Presidential proclamation creating a national day of Thanksgiving challenges us all to a faith that includes confession of our sins, compassion for our fellow man and gratitude to our Heavenly Father. As we gather for our Thanksgiving observances this week, may we hear again Lincoln’s exhortation. May we seek God’s face and trust in His Son that our sins might be forgiven, and that we might be a nation of righteousness that blesses the earth.