God and Thanksgiving

November 27, 2010  Columbia, MO

By: David Rosman

A friend forwarded an editorial from the Daytona Beach News-Journal concerning Thanksgiving, a faithful reprinting President George Washington’s first proclamation for a national day of thanks. To be fair to Washington’s Anglican roots and to the history of the holiday, here is the rest of the story.

Washington was not the only president to proclaim a day of thanks. John Adams and James Madison continued the practice, at least through the War of 1812. From 1815 to 1862, no such proclamation was made, nor was there a national celebration of thanks declared immediately after the Revolutionary War.

Interestingly, the President and Congress seemed to collude to ignore the Constitution, something still practiced today. Though, there are some connections between religion and government, as implicate or explicit as they may be, there is a historical and legal question as to whether such proclamations were law.

Yet Lincoln’s actions came only because Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, had proclaimed a day of thanks one year earlier. Davis’ proclamation declared November 15 as “a day of national humiliation and prayer… to implore blessing of almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.”

Lincoln’s first proclamation, signed on April 10, 1862, asked the citizens to, at their personal place of worship, “acknowledge and render thanks to our Heavenly Fathers for these inestimable blessings, that they then and there implore spiritual consolation in behalf of all who have been brought into affliction by the casualties and calamities of sedition and civil war, and… to the end that they may speedily result in the restoration of peace, harmony, and unity throughout our borders and hasten the establishment of fraternal relations among all the countries of the earth.”

There are three notes here. First, the presidential decree talks to “Heavenly Fathers,” not “Father,” and that “they,” in the lower case, bring blessings. Lincoln understood the large varieties of theistic and non-theistic beliefs in the nation.

Second, Lincoln, unlike Davis view of the Union, never saw the Confederacy as the “enemy.” There was something more “ecumenical” about Lincoln’s words.

It was not until 1863, in the mist of the Civil War, that Lincoln called on the American people to set, “the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens… 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 if, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.”  President Lincoln”s second proclamation of thanks is usually cited as the first “law” concerning Thanksgiving.

Third point; Lincoln’s proclamation was not law but a pronouncement. According to The ‘lectric Law Library, “The president’s proclamation has not the force of law, unless when authorized by congress.” Lincoln’s proclamation received no Congressional authorization.

In 1939, when Thanksgiving fell on the last day of the month and fearing a foreshortened Christmas buying season, President Franklyn Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as “Thanksgiving.” According to the National Achieves, the President’s proclamation was not wholly accepted. “32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November.”

It was not until Congress passed House Joint Resolution 41in 1941 that Thanksgiving was given congressional acceptance and declared Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the “last Thursday in November.” In 1942, “last” was struck and “fourth” inserted by the United States Senate, giving us the secular holiday as we celebrate it today. There is no mention of religion or God in the resolution, with the exception of Christmas as a holiday.

Those who claim a religious connection to Thanksgiving do so through Puritan beliefs and various presidential proclamations. The holiday, by tradition, is a celebration of the harvest and survival in a foreign and hostile land. Puritan belief was adamant that only God could have saved them from death. Only He could guide their ingenuity and the cooperation of the Native Americans. The tradition of presidents thanking God is more of a ritual, not a statement of the religiosity of the United States.

Like all other national holidays, with the exception of Christmas (more about that in another column), Thanksgiving is secular and our “prayers” are those which all should have, that of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And of peace.

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.

Return to Ink and Voice


About David Rosman

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and NYJournalofBooks.com.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Conspiracy Theories, Constitution, Ethics, Political Commentary, Religion, US and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to God and Thanksgiving

  1. Rusko says:

    Washington and Adams may have proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, but Jefferson did not. He may have thought it was reminiscent of the theocracy he had fought against.

    Jefferson took the gloves off when he asserted that the proclamations of thanksgivings and fasts were “practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church,” i.e., by George III, King of England. By identifying the proclamation of thanksgivings and fasts as “British,” Jefferson damned them, for in the Republican lexicon British was a dirty word, a synonym for “Anglomane,” “Monocrat,” “Tory,” terms with which the Republicans had demonized the Federalists for a decade for their alleged plans to reverse the Revolution by reimposing a British-style monarchy on the United States. One of the most obnoxious features of the Federalists’ American monarchy, as the Republicans depicted their putative project, was a church established by law, and Jefferson doubtless expected those who read his message to understand that, by supporting “British” fasts and thanksgivings, the Federalists were scheming, as always, to open a door to the introduction of an ecclesiastical tyranny.
    -End Quote-

    From The Library Of Congress

  2. one can argue that it can go both ways

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s