Happy Thanksgiving from Abraham Lincoln

On this Thanksgiving, it is, perhaps, appropriate to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Thankgiving Proclamation to give us all some perspective. For Lincoln, Thanksgiving was about acknowledging the mercies of God in the midst of the great civil war the country was embroiled in. And here, in 2016, we may not be physically at war with each other, but we are in the middle of a great ideological struggle which has severely divided our nation in two. While debates of philosophy and policy are important, they are not on Thanksgiving Day. May we all pause and reflect on Lincoln’s wise words.

 

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards 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 cannot 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 unequalled 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 theatre of military conflict; while that theatre 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 defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the 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 battle-field; 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 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. 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 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, 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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Rights, The Declaration of Independence, & the Louisiana School System

In this fascinating article by Tom Lindsey Is the Declaration of Independence Based on a Lie which I’ve started using in my history and government class, Lindsey brings up a rejected bill in the Louisiana State Assembly which would have required school students to recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence before school. Representative Norton, who opposed the bill, stated that the D of I was written during the time of slavery so principles such as “…all men are created equal…” was a lie and we shouldn’t make children recite such nonsense which wasn’t true since slavery was still legalized.

Lindsey does a fabulous job in illustrating why Norton’s view is sheer nonsense. Three of his critiques rest on the shoulders of some famous Americans who spoke specifically about this issue. Here’s what they said:

Martin Luther King Jr.: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Abraham Lincoln: “[The founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated. . . .”

Frederick Douglas, in his critique of the Dred Scott case and the embarrassing opinion of then Chief Justice Roger Taney, said that slaves indeed were meant to benefit from the Declaration’s claim.

So the question must be asked? Who would you rather trust on the matter: Representative Norton from Louisiana or Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln?

Wow, that’s a close call. Let me think about this for a minute.

The Declaration of Independence set up a standard, a goal which the young country was striving towards; a belief that was embedded within the philosophy of the day.

Who you ask?

These former Englishmen who set out to break away from King George did so with the words and influence of a famous English philosopher ringing in their ears: John Locke.

Locke, who especially influenced Thomas Jefferson, the writer of (most of) the Declaration of Independence, spoke of Nature’s Law. The rights of humans is not bestowed on humanity by a bureaucratic government or a benevolent king. No, rights come from Nature and from God. They are not something that can be given out by attaching it to a bill and passing it in Congress. We have rights because we are human, like we have breath, given to us by our Creator, bestowed upon our nature because of who we are – human.

And while unrighteous governments can take rights away, can enslave an entire race, can segregate and separate and pick and choose as long as it has the might to do so, government can NOT alienate us from our rights. Thus the saying: “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights …”

Each and every slave had rights given to them by God. Taken away from them by man.

This is the beauty of the Declaration of Independence. It celebrates humanity in such a powerful way, even amidst a world which was at that time (or at this time) anything but perfect.

But the ideal, the precedent, the goal to strive for was forever enshrined within our founding documents. That is, indeed, something to be celebrated. It’s something to be memorized. It’s something to be recited in our classrooms.

I hope Representative Norton will look again at our imperfect past and see the struggle we’ve all been working towards has been there right from the beginning. School kids need to know this.