Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving
By Maureen Paterson
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving would fall on “the last Thursday of November” on an annual basis. As the Civil War dragged on for several years, he grew to acknowledge that the war was really about America’s sin of slavery and the punishment our young nation needed from God. Here is his, October 3, 1863, Thanksgiving Proclamation:
“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.”1
Besides gratitude and thanksgiving, Lincoln called for humility and repentance. On March, 4th, 1865, his famous second inaugural address further reveals his feelings.
“The Almighty has his own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ …Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”
With malice toward non; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”2
Using the words of historian, Joshua Charles, ” I hope that we, like Lincoln, might be led to ponder what may be the sins of our time – the things that we ourselves need to repent of in the midst of our blessings. That was Lincoln’s attitude: penitential gratitude.
May we imitate the savior of our Union this Thanksgiving.”3