Thanksgiving in a Time of Need - November 24, 2014

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

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 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 favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, 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 hath 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 transgressions, 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 unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease 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.

Reading the words of our most obvious giant should give us hope that our present and our future will not always be subject to pygmies.

The history of what came to be Thanksgiving is usually thought to have begun in 1621 with Pilgrims at Plymouth (in present-day Massachusetts), 168 years before President Washington’s Thanksgiving Day dedication.

It has become common these days for people to question the term “American Exceptionalism.” Our present president once famously explained American Exceptionalism thus: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

Let me try to explain briefly what is at hand here. During the period leading up to, and eventually establishing, the United States of America, our country was graced with a most amazing group of leaders in various colonies with various ideas (by no means was there always agreements among these men) and talents. But even today, to study the history of any of these dozens of patriots is spine-chilling. I have long stood in wonder how it was possible that one relatively small city, Athens, gave birth to three of the greatest men of all times at more or less the same period. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were each a genius of all time, not simply the greatest genius of his time or his city or his lineage, but all lineages and cities and times. Yet they walked the streets of Athens at the same time. How is this possible, I asked myself.

Well, second only to that miracle, in my mind, is that of our Founding Fathers. How did one small area, an area that was a colony to a great country, and not even a sophisticated place of note, give birth to such men at the same period? How can we make sense of this? How could this be? Has anything like this ever occurred in history ever before? We have been blessed with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, and, most amazingly, literally dozens of other greats, all coming together at one time to create a great country out of their own will and promise. Even among the many lesser figures, there was greatness and honor. Being from Maryland, I was especially impressed with Maryland’s only signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (to distinguish himself from his father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis). It is said that when someone asked him why his name alone among the signers listed a place, Carroll said that if their declaration was to fail, he wanted the British to know where to find him.

From the very beginning, the United States was a country largely of immigrants, of people who chose to leave their own homes and settle in what was then a rugged and sometimes unforgiving land, but one that offered people everywhere two great gifts that has never changed: opportunity and abundance.

Opportunity, American style, has always been associated with freedom, for in America, at least, without freedom, there is no true opportunity. And abundance in those early years is absolutely tied to another form of opportunity, since abundance was only there as a result of the work and creativity, then and now. Abundance is not simply sitting around waiting for goodies to fly our way, it is the result of hard work on the one hand and their great belief on the other. Indeed, in my mind, abundance without the benefits of God’s will, to use the expression of Washington, is just a lucky moment that will pass into oblivion, as it has for one great society after another in all history. This opportunity, this freedom, and this abundance, this loving protection in the arms of God . . . that is our continuing American Exceptionalism.

In our beginnings Giants walked the earth, but the very words and deeds of these giants of those days lead us to the certainty that God has granted us giants to this day.

Happy Thanksgiving