The Message of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

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In the midst of a Civil War that severed our country and killed 2 percent of its population, Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation “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.”

Counting an abundance of blessings, Lincoln said “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.”

In a nation then four score and seven years old, he saw beyond the dark uncertainties of the moment and into a glorious future: “The country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Alongside this gratitude and optimism came a plea for prayer, that Americans “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation.”

This year has brought unthinkable hardship. Losses of every kind have piled up as days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, months became the whole year, and we still see no return to life as we knew it.

Lincoln must have felt this way, and then some. Yet it was exactly one week before that first national Thanksgiving that he gave a short speech at Gettysburg, resolving that the young nation shall have a “new birth of freedom.”

On this last Thursday of November, seven score and seventeen years hence, I am thankful for the enduring strength of America’s free institutions and the unrivaled capacity of the people of California to chart a new course. For this, I am hopeful that a better year lies ahead, and perhaps even a new direction for our state.

That’s why we can have gratitude in the throes of hardship. We are fighting for California because there is so much worth fighting for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

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