Beyond Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama
Special Note: This article, along with considerable additional information, is included in Jim’s Book “Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular” available for purchase in Paperback and FREE in eBook format at this link: Jim’s Books
This is the fourth in a series of four articles on the history of Thanksgiving Day in the USA and how it has changed from primarily a religious celebration to that of a long weekend of secular celebration. In my third article, I covered the background of how the Thanksgiving Day moved from a national day of celebration proclaimed by the President to a lengthy period where the states took the lead due to the first amendment which guarantees the separation of church and state. Then finally a nationwide Thanksgiving Day was restored during the midst of the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln. In this fourth article, I will highlight the period of time and some of the major Thanksgiving Day proclamations and related events by presidents Beyond Abraham Lincoln to Barack Hussein Obama.
First let’s turn to the scriptures for some inspiration on the subject and to provide insight into God’s perspective on giving thanks to Him for His divine providence to mankind.
Scripture: (all ESV unless otherwise noted)
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 – 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
Colossians 3:17 – 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
1 Timothy 4:4-5 – 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Psalm 100 (KJV) – 1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Scripture Discussion – God has abundantly provided for ALL of our needs. He has done this through His grace … “a grace that exceeds ALL of our sin and our guilt.” It is a “marvelous, infinite, matchless” grace as the hymn Grace Greater Than Our Sin with words by Julia H. Johnston published in 1911 so aptly puts it. God has fulfilled ALL of the laws demands on our behalf by giving the grace gift of salvation through His son Jesus, the Messiah. God’s grace giving is our guide for giving back to God and to others. 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 teaches that God is the supplier of the seed for the sower and the bread for our food. It is God who increases our harvest and enriches us “in every way” so that we can in return be generous “in every way.” It is God’s grace gift of salvation that in turn “will produce thanksgiving to God.”
In Colossians 3:17 Paul teaches the church at Colossae that they (and we) are not free to make up our own rules regarding personal and professional relationships, how we worship at home and at church, how we perform our work, etc. After putting on mercy, kindness, humility, forgiveness and love (Colossians 3:1-16) Paul admonishes that we “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Without thanksgiving we are just going through the motions.
Paul warns the early church in 1 Timothy 4:4-5 of the apostasy of some of their religious practices that had already entered their doctrine or could enter it in the future. A specific example was given by Paul in that since ALL meat was provided by God and “everything created by God is good,” it can be eaten without concern given that it is received with the proper Attitude of Thankfulness. This was quite a departure from what most Jews had been taught and practiced. Not ALL meat was clean for the Jews in accordance with Old Testament scriptures. In addition, Gnosticism had also become pervasive in the church and Paul warned that such doctrinal error should not be practiced.
Before proceeding further return to the scriptures above and re-read Psalm 100:1-5. Charles Spurgeon has a wonderful exposition on Psalm 100:4 reproduced below:
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving. To the occurrence of the word thanksgiving in this place the Psalm probably owes its title. In all our public service the rendering of thanks must abound; it is like the incense of the temple, which filled the whole house with smoke. Expiatory sacrifices are ended, but those of gratitude will never be out of date. So long as we are receivers of mercy we must be givers of thanks. Mercy permits us to enter his gates; let us praise that mercy. What better subject for our thoughts in God’s own house than the Lord of the house. And into his courts with praise. Into whatever court of the Lord you may enter, let your admission be the subject of praise: thanks be to God, the innermost court is now open to believers, and we enter into that which is within the veil; it is incumbent upon us that we acknowledge the high privilege by our songs. Be thankful unto him. Let the praise be in your heart as well as on your tongue, and let it all be for him to whom it all belongs. And bless his name. He blessed you, bless him in return; bless his name, his character, his person. Whatever he does, be sure that you bless him for it; bless him when he takes away as well as when he gives; bless him as long as you live, under all circumstances; bless him in all his attributes, from whatever point of view you consider him.”
What better way to honor God and display our thankfulness to God than to observe a season of Thanksgiving in our homes, our churches, and our nation?
The American Civil War ended with the surrender by Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865. Five days later President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and Vice President Andrew Johnson from Tennessee became the seventeenth president. Johnson led the country during the very tough reconstruction era and was at odds with both political parties during his time in office. He was actually impeached by the House of Representatives in 1867 but the Senate did not go along with the impeachment and Johnson served out the remainder of his term through 1869 when he was succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant. According to Wikipedia, “one of Johnson’s last significant acts as President was to grant unconditional amnesty to ALL Confederates on Christmas Day 1868.” But the country was still severely divided. More than 620,000 soldiers perished in the Civil War, more than in any U.S. conflict before and since that terrible conflict. The economy of the South was left in shambles and deep animosity continued between the southern and northern states for many years afterward.
The time was ripe for a re-uniting of the people of the republic and a national day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President Andrew Johnson on October 28, 1865 to be observed the first Thursday in December. In Johnson’s brief proclamation he specifically referred to God as “Almighty God,” “Heavenly Father,” and “Creator.” Each of the successive Presidents beyond Andrew Johnson through Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) continued to issue a Thanksgiving Day proclamation and each president specifically referred to “God” somewhere in the text of the proclamation. You can read representative examples of these at this link. During this period of U.S. history, the last Thursday of November became the established day for observance of Thanksgiving.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933 and served until his death in 1945. Roosevelt took office amidst the Great Depression which had begun with the crash of the U.S. stock market on October 29, 1929 and quickly spread worldwide. People from both cities and rural environments in affluent and poor countries all over the globe suffered immensely. Incomes fell dramatically, unemployment in the U.S. reached 25% and as high as 33% in other countries, international trade plummeted. Some economies began to recover in the late 1930’s while others did not do so until after the end of World War II in 1945.
During each of Roosevelt’s years in office he continued the practice of proclaiming a national Thanksgiving Day to be observed on the last Thursday in November. By 1939 the annual Christmas shopping season was a well-established and important annual event for merchandisers and the U.S. economy. It traditionally started the day after Thanksgiving. In 1939 the last Thursday of the month fell on November 30 and President Roosevelt was concerned that such a short shopping period would damage the economic recovery following the Great Depression. By proclamation Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. Only 32 of the 48 states followed Roosevelt’s proclamation resulting in national confusion over when to observe Thanksgiving. Congress set a fixed-date in 1941 for the Federal Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November … where it remains today.
In the midst of World War II, which the U.S. had entered in 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt’s 1942 Thanksgiving Day proclamation was particularly religious in nature. He quoted Psalm 23 from The Holy Bible in its entirety. Much later, President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) quoted Psalm 105:1-3 in his 1988 proclamation. George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993) quoted Psalm 100 in his 1989 proclamation. To my knowledge, these three men are the only presidents to quote scripture directly in their Thanksgiving proclamations.
Richard Milhous Nixon made no mention of God in his proclamation in 1969 other than to refer to a “strength greater than ourselves.” This is not that surprising to me as Nixon resigned the office of President on August 9, 1974 during his second term, the only President to ever do so in U.S. history, due to his complicit involvement in the coverup of the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s successor was his Vice President, Gerald Rudolph Ford (1974-1977). Almost immediately upon Ford taking office he pardoned Nixon. That proved to be his undoing when he ran for election in 1977 and lost. While in office, President Ford carefully worded his Thanksgiving proclamations as well making reference to “the Supreme Creator” and only mentioning God in citing the motto “In God We Trust” imprinted on U.S. coins.
George Walker Bush’s (2001-2008) proclamation issued in 2008 contained several references to God. One in particular recognized the source of ALL of the U.S. blessings. Bush recorded, “We recognize that all of these blessings, and life itself, come not from the hand of man but from Almighty God.” President Bush also referred to God as the Author of Life and mentioned the name of God several other times.
Barack Hussein Obama (2009-Present) continued the tradition of issuing Thanksgiving Day proclamations. On November 20, 2012 after his reelection for another four-year term set to run from 2013-2017, President Obama made reference to God in the statement “… grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives” and noted that at our democracy’s first Thanksgiving George Washington “prayed to our Creator for peace.”
In today’s U.S. society most businesses give their employees Thanksgiving Day and the following day as holidays. Public schools close for the entire Thanksgiving week. Many families take vacation time that week … time for traveling, time for visiting family and friends, time for eating, time to attend football games, time to go to the movies, time to go to special events such as the lighting of the community Christmas Tree, and especially time for Black Friday shopping. Sadly, so many treat the Thanksgiving “holiday” as just that … a holiday, and not a holy day … filled with everything but thanksgiving to God. Many churches even cancel some of their regular services during the Thanksgiving season instead of providing additional opportunities to gather and give thanks to Almighty God for His bountiful blessings.
Looking back over this four-part series of articles I have to admit that I am somewhat surprised at what I have concluded about Thanksgiving in the process of researching my material. On the positive side, I believe that God has overseen the formation of this grand republic and has provided His providential care to us well beyond what we deserve. It is out of His goodness and His love for us that the U.S. has prospered as a nation … a nation that exceeds that of any other in history. On the negative side, I have concluded that so many of the citizens of the U.S. don’t care about God’s personal involvement neither in our nation nor in our individual lives. It is no wonder that over time the U.S. celebration has gradually transitioned from a religious celebration of thankfulness honoring Almighty God to a secular holiday filled with the self-seeking satisfaction of our personal pleasures.
Earlier today I received a brief communique from one of our Missionary friends serving in central Europe. His message was written specifically to his Christian supporters and prayer partners and encourages them to abound in thanksgiving. Below you will find the text of that message. I have removed his name and edited slightly to protect he and his family.
As I read the following verses, a classic text on discipleship, it struck me that Paul considers a thankful heart to be a mark of maturity.
Colossians 2:6-7 – 6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
If we are established in our faith, Paul assumes that we will abound in Thanksgiving. May it be true of you and me TODAY!
Yes, Lord, may it be true for me and my loved ones TODAY! Not only in our specified times of Thanksgiving, Lord, but throughout the days of our lives.
Heavenly Father, forgive me for my lack of thankfulness. Thank you for your love and protection for my family and our country. Help me to live my life going forward abounding in an attitude and spirit of thanksgiving and to never forget from where ALL of my blessings flow. In the name of Jesus, Amen and Amen!
Related Links and Articles:
- What is the origin of America’s annual Thanksgiving Day?
- Spark Notes on The American Revolution
- Wikipedia on Thanksgiving
- Timeline: From Founding Through the American Revolution
- Religious affiliation of all US Presidents
- Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer
- Congress Establishes Thanksgiving
- John Adams Religious Views
- Religious affiliation of Abraham Lincoln
- Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations
- Consequences of Thanklessness
- Answers.com on Thanksgiving
Related Articles by Jim Davenport:
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 1
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 2
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 3
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 4
- Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul
- Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul – Update
- Blessings in Disguise – a Thanksgiving Devotional
- An Attitude of Thankfulness
- An Attitude of Thanklessness
- An Anchor in the Time of the Storm
- How to Become a Christian
- A Summary of All of Jim Davenport’s Articles
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