The past several years I have read to my Sunday School class President Lincoln’s declaration of the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. We always think about the Pilgrims, but it was Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War who created the holiday celebration we’ve just experienced together. What amazes me are the circumstances:
It was the mid point in the Civil War, but no one knew that.
His mother died of a terrible disease when he was nine and his beloved sister who cared for him died in childbirth ten years later.
He only had one full year of school.
At this time, two of his sons had died during childhood (another son would die of heart failure eight years later).
Abraham Lincoln is reported by many to have suffered from depression for most of his adult life. His wife Mary was later committed to a sanitarium due to her deteriorating mental condition.
Mary Todd came from a family that owned slaves and continue to during the presidency of Lincoln.
He worked each day in the White House, while across the street soldiers were being buried each day.
The sound of cannon fire could be heard from nearby conflict.
This family certainly had and continued to endure terrible hardships. I so often wonder how this great man was able to write the proclamation and to inspire his nation to remember all the reasons they had to give thanks.
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
When I read this each year, it inspires me to put my life in perspective and to count my blessings and give thanks. What about you?