Lincoln asked “the Almighty Hand” to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes.” Such “lamentable strife” showed no signs of letting up soon. Yet his major purpose was thanksgiving. The wounds and death would continue for another 19 months and would include his assassination.
In the midst of the terrible conflict that threatened to rend the Union apart, Lincoln acknowledged the “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies” that spoke of the “ever watching providence of Almighty God.” Still, he gave thanks.
Fewer of us know that exactly 74 years before that, on Oct. 3, 1789, Washington issued a proclamation declaring a Day of Thanksgiving. Washington’s proclamation recommended to the people “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God.”
Washington’s Proclamation came, of course, after our first very bloody war. At least 25,000 American soldiers had died in recent years from smallpox or the effects of battle. Washington — undoubtedly weary from his leadership of the siege — had come to the presidency. Yet Washington’s purpose in the proclamation was thanksgiving.
The United States Constitution had just gone into effect. Many in Congress were nervous about how it would be received by the people. Yet Washington’s purpose in the proclamation was thanksgiving.
Then there were the Pilgrims. By the time of their thanksgiving feast of 1621, several of them had died from cold and disease. Some simply starved to death. Their relations with the Native Americans were sometimes tenuous. Yet they offered thanksgiving.
You may be discouraged about life. Remember that it has been worse. And we endured it. Remember that we all have the opportunity to receive the strength offered by Almighty God.
Dr. John C. Wakefield of Johnson City is chaplain general of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution.