The Prayer of Thanksgiving

By Faith and Freedom Staff

As our friends and neighbors gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, we at the Faith and Freedom Coalition share in your thoughtful contemplation of our many blessings. Moreover, as we continue to fight against those who wish to scrub prayer from our schools and other public places, it’s worth remembering that Thanksgiving was founded essentially as a prayer.

Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation noted its primary purpose was 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.”

Lincoln further asked Americans to pray for “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.”

The Background

George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789. Others followed, but the celebrations were sporadic and disjointed—usually held separately in Northern states, primarily New England.

Then, beginning around 1848, a 74-year-old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, began writing to presidents requesting a formal national holiday. Finally, in the midst of the Civil War, on September 28, 1863, Hale wrote the President Abraham Lincoln again making her request:

“You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale immediately and soon granted her request. Lincoln asked Secretary of State William Seward to write the proclamation, which outlined the many blessings—even in the midst of a bloody conflict—that our nation enjoyed at the time. These blessings included a growing population and vast stores of minerals. Most importantly, Lincoln said, “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and 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…”

Most notably, from our perspective, is Lincoln’s appreciation for the mercy and grace of God. The proclamation begins by recognizing that we are “prone to forget the source” of our “fruitful fields” and “healthful skies” – “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.” He continued: “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.”

President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation for America’s national day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863. We stand with you in prayer and supplication during these difficult times, and wish you a peaceful, praiseworthy holiday.

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