NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Taking an attitude of humility into a day of Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving the nation takes a day off to celebrate its blessings. And the words in a proclamation of the holiday by Abraham Lincoln more than 150 years ago seem just as appropriate today as they did during the Civil War.

Whether we trace the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition to either a 1619 religious event in Virginia or a 1621 celebration by Pilgrims at Plymouth in what is Massachusetts today, it was the campaigning of Sarah Josepha Hale (the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) 200 years later that eventually led President Lincoln in 1863 to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving, hoping to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states. But due to the rejection of Lincoln’s proclamations by the Confederate states, Thanksgiving Day wasn’t realized until Reconstruction in the 1870s due to the bitter divisions of the Civil War.

During his presidency, Lincoln issued nine proclamations of prayer, fasting or thanksgiving. The first was on Aug. 12, 1861, in response to a request from Congress. On March 30, 1863, Lincoln issued Proclamation 97, following Hale’s many appeals, appointing Thursday, April 30 of that year as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. His proclamation included the following words that seem particularly pertinent to the nation today:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also said, “… it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”