Dear Marriage Supporter,
It was in 1789, only a couple years after the Constitution was finally ratified and enacted, that the first President of the brand new United States of America, George Washington, designated a Thursday in late November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving.
The day, he wrote, was "to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness." Washington also expressed gratitude to God "for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late [Revolutionary] war."
It was in the shadow of another war, one which had divided the nation, that another of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, inaugurated the tradition of an annual Thanksgiving Day. In 1863, in his landmark proclamation, the President expressed hope for the future of the country — even though it was in the midst of the bloodiest and most terrible conflict our shores have ever seen.
Lincoln recalled, through the gloom and the present strife, the many great blessings America had enjoyed and the many more to be looked forward to as a nation; and he wrote:
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 at sea and those who are sojourning 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.
Since then, on the last Thursday of November annually, our nation has accepted this invitation from the President that saved America in its most critical hour, and celebrated Thanksgiving. Subsequent Presidents have issued their own proclamations each year to designate the observance.
It seems that the most stirring of these proclamations have been issued in hours of trial and uncertainty for the nation, circumstances that recall the first proclamation by Washington and the most famous one by Lincoln.
In 1940, with Europe toiling in the Second World War, and the question of whether America would be drawn into that war looming in everyone's minds, President Roosevelt issued a very brief—but very powerful—proclamation, that was actually a prayer. It is worth quoting in full:
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail. Amen.
These utterances from our nation's past leaders, issued in times of doubt and difficulty, merit our reflection. They remind us of how our nation has remained strong through so many trials and challenges in the past, and give us hope for the future.
It is also worth reflecting, though, on why America has prospered as it has. And for that reminder, we turn to consider seemingly more ordinary things, but things that are in fact most extraordinary.
America has remained strong because at its foundation it has relied upon strong families and strong homes, men and women of character who have come together and built a lasting heritage and passed on not only material wealth to the next generation, but moral treasures as well.
We are reminded of this by the words of another President's proclamation, issued in a time of relative security and peace: the proclamation by President Reagan in 1985. In his characteristic simplicity and frankness, Reagan exhorted the nation:
Let us thank God for our families, friends, and neighbors, and for the joy of this very festival we celebrate in His name. Let every house of worship in the land and every home and every heart be filled with the spirit of gratitude and praise and love on this Thanksgiving Day.
Today, on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage, I want to wish you and all your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I know you join me today in expressing gratitude to God for the gifts of marriage and family, and for the faith communities that help sustain these foundations of America's greatness. Let us never tire or waver in defending these things, and never fail to give thanks for them, in and out of season.
Brian S. Brown