On Thanksgiving Day, many of us gather with family and friends to eat and enjoy time together. Politics may come up around the dinner table, but for many this is a time to embrace the things that bring us together, not divide us. Focusing on what we should be thankful for during this past year is a good way to accomplish this.
In that spirit, we may do well today to reflect on the presidential act that set the precedent for this holiday, Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation from 1863:
In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, 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 battle-field; 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. 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.
We may think we are divided today, but we have nothing on 1863, when the U.S. was made up of two warring camps. Even in the midst of a horrific war, President Lincoln called on Americans to be thankful for good things. If the nation could do this in 1863, we can certainly do it today.