Massachusetts. The Governor, William Bradford, and the Pilgrims established a time of fasting and praying in the spring, followed by a time of thanksgiving in the fall. The spirit of profound gratitude for God’s provision and the gift of family pervades narratives written by the colonist during those hard times.
However, Thanksgiving did not become an annual event in America until 1863, when President Lincoln was in office. After persistent appeals from Sarah Joseph Hale, a popular women’s magazine editor from Boston, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our benevolent Father. Lincoln wrote:
“No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out, these great things. They are the gracious gift 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.”
That proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863 was remarkable because it happened during a time in which the Union Army had been losing battle after battle for three extremely brutal and bloody years of Civil War. It was a pivotal time in Lincoln’s personal life, too. Several months earlier, the Battle of Gettysburg had resulted in the loss of more than 60,000 American lives. President Lincoln told an Illinois clergyman that it was while walking among the thousands of graves at Gettysburg that he trusted his life to Christ:
“When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.” That dedication was visible in his public pronouncements and actions for the remainder of his short but impactful presidency. He was able to energize and mobilize the nation by appealing to its best ideals, while acting with malice towards none in pursuit of a more perfect, more just, and more enduring Union.
It is no accident that Thanksgiving is the oldest of all our American holidays. Thankfulness in times of need and plenty, and in remembrance of our sin and God’s mercy, is the true spirit of America and the root of our freedom.
Overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s love and your friendships,
Mrs. Polly J. Friess