Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts Upon Thanksgiving

I've come to think that Thanksgiving is most deeply appreciated not in the extravagance of plenty, nor the satiation of every possible hunger that ends up in gluttony. Thanksgiving seems hollow if you expect everything you've got...or, you feel entitled to it.

There is the beginning of a different sense of Thanksgiving this year...perhaps a more pristine one. History can be a great teacher, if we pay attention and learn its lessons...Thanksgiving takes on a deeper meaning when you recognize what you've come through...or even what you're going through.

That first Thanksgiving, with Pilgrims and Native Americans...and Squanto (I remember reading a book about Squanto when I was a boy)...has a romantic feel to it this far removed...the stuff of childhood reenactments with their tall cardboard hats and feathered head's just so doggone cute.

But such observances do not strike us at our core to prompt the very thing it seeks. Thanksgiving only trapped in historical, if not mythological, remembrances do not necessarily make being thankfful incarnate in the present.

The recent election has prompted renewed interest in the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Every indicator is that President-elect Obama is taking cues from Lincoln's approach to governance...a steady course in the time extreme uncertainty.

I tell you, Doris Kearns Goodwin ought to give him a piece of her book, "Team of Rivals," because he's the best salesman for it she's got.

I was taken by the following proclamation. Placed into its historical context, it's an extraordinary thing.

The signs of the times indicate that we are in peril the likes of which we've not known in 100 years...that could well be.

I wonder if it will elicit deeper Thanksgiving for the things that, in the end, matter most.

So, my wish for you is not so much that you have a Happy Thanksgiving...but that you have a Thanksgiving in which thanksgiving is practiced.


The year that is drawing toward 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 can not 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 unequaled 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater 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 defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax 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 battlefield, 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. 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.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

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