Thanksgiving Proclamations from A King, Two Presidents and Congress

That national leaders recognize the necessity of giving thanks to God for the bounty we all enjoy is not new, nor restricted to biblical sources.  As our nation prepares to continue the tradition of Thanksgiving, consider the words of a king, two presidents, and  Congress regarding how right and fitting it is to give thanks. First, the words of David, Second King of Israel.  

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,

O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,

which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan, as your portion for an inheritance.”

When you were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it,

wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,

he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account,

saying, “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!”

Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;

tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!”

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!

Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD.”  (I Chronicles 16.8-36) 

Next, the proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, made by George Washington, on October 3rd, 1789.

“Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas 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; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington”

Next, the proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving, made by Abraham Lincoln, on October 3rd, 1863.  This would become the resolution on which the official national holiday was enacted by Congress in 1941.

“By the President of the United States of America.

 A Proclamation.

 The year that is drawing towards 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 cannot 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 theatre of military conflict; while that theatre 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 plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe 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 battle-field; 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, tranquility 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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

 By the President: Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward,

 Secretary of State”

So how did we arrive at Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November?  Unfortunately, it was owing to money.  According the The National Archives,

“In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving – the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.”

House Joint resolution 41 of the 77th Congress, 1st Session, read as follows:

“Joint Resolution

Making the last Thursday in November a legal holiday.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday of November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22nd day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

Passed the House of representative October 6, 1941.”

The Senate then offered an amendment to the bill, which was then passed and signed into law on December 26, 1941.  That Amendment read,

” In the Senate of the United States, December 9, 1941.

Resolved, That the joint resolution from the House of Representatives (H.J. Res 41) entitled “Joint Resolution making the last Thursday in November a legal holiday”, do pass with the following

Amendments:

Line 3, strike out [last] and insert fourth 

Amend the title so as to read: “Joint Resolution making the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday.””

And that was it.  No great display of genuine Thanksgiving.  No justification that this is right and good to offer thanks to God, or reflect on the need for collective repentance for the sins of the nation.  Just business.

While the nation may set aside only one day to give thanks, may those who are truly thankful live their thanks, each and every day.   

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