President Abraham Lincoln took a “count your blessings” approach when he issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in the fall of 1863, calling for Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanks to Almighty God.
The precedent Lincoln set is the precursor to our modern Thanksgiving national holiday and the words he offered in the throes of the Civil War are instructive to us now.
After Union forces suffered many setbacks and even horrendous defeats during the first year-and-a-half of America’s deadliest war, finally in July 1863 came two powerful victories against the Confederacy: Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which entirely opened the Mississippi River up to the Union Navy.
In light of these two victories and the other blessings he felt God had bestowed on the United States, President Lincoln issued a “Proclamation for Thanksgiving: July 15, 1863,” which stated, in part, “It has pleased Almighty God to hearken to the supplications and prayers of an afflicted people and to vouchsafe to the Army and the Navy of the United States victories on land and on the sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the Union of these States will be maintained, their Constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored.”
A few months later, Lincoln issued another “Proclamation for Thanksgiving: October 3, 1863,” recognizing God’s invisible hand helping in the fight.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” the president’s proclamation began.
“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 cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God,” Lincoln continued.
“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.”
At that point in the war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict had died or been wounded on far-flung battlefields like First and Second Bull Run, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Chickamauga.
By way of comparison, currently about 253,000 are reported to have died from the coronavirus or 0.0008 of the U.S. population of 328 million.
Obviously, to those who lost loved ones, the pain is the same, but the Civil War statistics offer some context to the current trying time.
Lincoln offered his praise to God that even in the midst of the disruption caused by the Civil War, the nation’s economy continued to function surprisingly well and the country’s population continued to grow.
“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,” Lincoln said.
Therefore, he encouraged Americans “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.”
Lincoln then concluded, stating: “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.”
So the president asked for the healing presence of God to fall on the land, which is certainly something we should also pray for now.
Like those Americans of yesteryear, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, even with the current contention over the election and COVID.
Let’s count our blessings, even as we push forward to get an open review of the election and hopefully — with vaccines and new treatments coming — a soon end to the coronavirus pandemic.