Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving borne of vexation and humility

Even given the popularity of Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln, not to mention Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it seems that you can't take too much for granted these days, especially when it comes to knowledge of history, which, along with the other humanities seems to be on the wane. So, for those who are unaware, Thanksgiving was declared and became a national holiday in the United States observed on the last Thursday of November in 1863, during one the most difficult times of our bloody Civil War. On 3 October 1863 President Lincoln declared that the the nation "observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

Anyone who has read any credible biography of our sixteenth president knows that Lincoln wrestled mightily with God. Nonetheless, he increasingly saw the Civil War as God's judgment on the nation for the evil of slavery. As a result of this conviction, in addition to giving thanks to God, President Lincoln, in his 1863 proclamation, recommended to his fellow citizens
that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to [God] 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
What is even less well-known is that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, along with Lincoln, issued several such or similar proclamations during the War Between the States. You can read all of Lincoln's and Davis' wartime proclamations here.

To my mind all of this only serves to highlight something from Lincoln's still amazing Second Inaugural address, in which he observed,
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes
Humility before God befits our nation and every nation on earth. So, to both of my readers, a happy, humble, and joyful Thanksgiving!

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