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The Presidents on Thanksgiving

I spent the day with my preschool class gearing them up for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m sure you can imagine the makings of our day. We started out in circle time as I read them the story of “The First Thanksgiving”. Afterwards, we went to the tables, spread with crayons, contruction paper, tape, glue sticks and went to work. I traced their little hands onto paper, which they promptly turned into turkeys. We made Pilgrim hats and Indian headresses. We made an entire Thanksgiving meal out of red, yellow and blue playdough. And yes, a few kids DID try to eat it. Come on, admit it. We’ve ALL tried it!

One of the things I LOVE about little kids though, is that they grow up. Those who know me well, know how much I love working with older kids. I find incredible satisfaction in having good, thought-provoking discussions with older children and hearing their thoughtful responses and watching their faces light up when an idea finally clicks and they “get it”.

The Thanksgiving holiday provides an opportunity for those kinds of discussions. What kids initially learn about Thanksgiving is very limited;
the Mayflower, the pilgrims, the cold winter, the indians and the eventual harvest and feast. Then as they move into higher grades, they learn more about WHY the pilgrims left their homelands in the first place. But some of the greatest words spoken about giving thanks for blessings and freedoms have come from two of our national presidents. For some very sad reason (which we can probably guess), our kids don’t usually learn this in school. Yet wonderful discussions about blessings, righteousness, repentance, law, order and government and the relationship between then, can occur using the words of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, from their addresses on Thanksgiving.

Between the first Thanksgiving in 1621 and 1788, the holiday was celebrated in various colonies, then states. Then in 1789, George Washington declared it a holiday.

“WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

Between 1789 and 1862 Thanksgiving was celebrated by many of the states thus far in the country. But in an attempt to unite the union amid the tensions of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday after being approached with the idea by the poet, Sarah J. Hale. Like President Washington, Lincoln’s words are stirring.

“The year that is drawing toward 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 can not 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater 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 plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our 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 battlefield, 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 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 imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, 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 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”

I doubt that anyone can read President Lincoln’s words without noticing the similarities between the tensions and troubles of the country THEN and the tensions and troubles we have today. And did you notice that in addition to giving thanks for our blessings, that BOTH presidents mentioned the need for national repentance and forgiveness?

If you have older children, or exceptionally bright younger ones, please consider sharing these things with your kids.

Beyond the stuffing and pumpkin pie, and even beyond the pilgrims and indians there is so much to be thankful for and so much to ponder.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Michelle D November 26, 2008, 1:16 pm

    Thank you, Tracy, for sharing these quotes from two great Presidents. This seems to be a good way to start a discussion with our kids tomorrow night or during our next FHE… 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith November 26, 2008, 2:48 pm

    Tracy, thank you. It’s about time we had some new, relevant content! Bless your heart!

  • Ray November 26, 2008, 7:09 pm

    Wonderful reminder, Tracy. Thanks.

  • davidson November 27, 2008, 6:34 am

    Perfect, Tracy. I woke up this morning wondering how I could make this day more than just an eat fest for my family. Thank you for the food for thought.

  • spande2 November 29, 2008, 10:57 pm

    Thank you, Tracy. I just saw this, so we didn’t have it for the actual day, but we’ll read it together tomorrow night.

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