When it comes to the origins of American national holidays, it’s hard to equal the one that, 74 years apart, was jointly created by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
On October 3, 1789, President Washington proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed “by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”
Seventy-four years later, on October 3, 1863, President Lincoln established our official annual Thanksgiving Day, imploring Americans to ask God “to heal the wounds of the nation” in the midst of civil war.
In the great world religions — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i and Hindu — giving thanks is an important basic tradition.
Gratitude simply is a personal acknowledgement of one’s benefits and blessings. A well-known 12-step program suggests that a major factor in recovery from addiction is an attitude of gratefulness. Gratitude defines us at our best; it moves us away from ourselves toward others, or toward a Higher Power.
Certainly among the things for which we may be thankful are family and friends. When all else fails, we look to them for help and support. This annual holiday allows renewal of these intimate ties, reminding us of their vital importance.
My four children and their families now live in California, Florida, Georgia and Michigan. As they grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we made an annual trip to Mr. Gadow’s turkey farm in Preston to choose our bird. Glebe House, our home near Easton, was the scene of many happy Thanksgivings. This year I will be with my family in Michigan.
God Bless America
Some in America dwell on “separation of church and state,” but the founding of the United States and our history is marked by reference and appeals to God to bless us and our national endeavors.
President George Washington stated in that first Thanksgiving proclamation: “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 favor.”
Thus it is that Thanksgiving Day, an official day established by law, allows Americans to pause and thank the God of our understanding for our many blessings. This day historically blends spiritual and official gratitude — but it is up to us to pause and make that gratitude a reality.
Those of us of a certain age recall learning in kindergarten about the persecuted Pilgrims who came to America in search of religious freedom and a better life. In the New World, these early settlers gave thanks to the Author of Life for granting them safe passage and protection through a bitter winter — with the help of generous Native Americans.
Better Angels of Our Nature
With an approaching national election, the media bombards us daily with shameful political strife. Across the world, as Pope Francis has warned, western civilization is under brutal, bloody siege.
With eventually over 750,000 dead and many more wounded, President Abraham Lincoln intimately came to know the agony of such horrors, but offered us and all the world good advice — for his day and for today.
In his First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861, Lincoln eloquently spoke to the need for national unity:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
In spite of our many problems, we in America have much for which to be grateful. Think seriously about that and give thanks.
Yours for liberty,
Bob Bauman JD
Chairman, Freedom Alliance