President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to be observed on the last Thursday of November in 1863, issued a few months after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War at Gettysburg. With the outcome of the war still in doubt, Lincoln nevertheless called the nation to give thanks:
“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 unequalled magnitude and severity… 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 siege and the battle-field…
“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…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, tranquillity and Union.”*
President Lincoln’s proclamation established Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday that all succeeding presidents have observed. Yet the dire circumstances under which this faith-filled proclamation was made is another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Habakkuk 3:2 and reflect on the prophet’s prayer and compare that to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation.
Prayer: Most High God, we are truly grateful that in your anger that you have remembered mercy. We pray that you would continue to do so toward America, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Roy P. Basler, Jr., ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols., (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 6:496-97.