I find historical Thanksgiving Proclamations to be interesting with the insights they provide into the times in which they were issued, and that is why I have shared a couple of them with you in the past. I believe we have reprinted the one issued by George Washington in 1789—the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation—as well as that of Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which ultimately led to Thanksgiving being established as a national holiday.
This morning, I have for your consideration a lesser-known example from the 22nd President (and 24th if you’re ever in a trivia contest and need to know the only President to serve two nonconsecutive terms), Grover Cleveland. I have included it here because of the sentiments it preserves, which I find extremely significant.
On the one hand, Cleveland extols the day as one set aside for “a reunion of families,” anticipating what is arguably the dominant note in contemporary observances of the holiday. And, indeed, I hope that you all enjoy good times reminiscing with family and friends over the next several days.
But he also commends the suspension of all secular business so the people can “assemble in their usual places of worship and with prayer and songs of praise” to thank God for his blessings. It’s worth pondering how the relationship between church and state has evolved over the years; more than that, it is striking that Thanksgiving was once associated with a host of people engaged in communal devotions that wasn’t a football game.
Finally, he urges “remembrance of the poor,” which stands in sharp rebuke to the consumerism that grips us with Black Friday sales that now bleed into Thanksgiving Day itself.
There is a lot to reflect on here. I encourage you to ponder it and perhaps take some of the thoughts into your own observance this week. Happy Thanksgiving.
By the President of the United States A Proclamation The American people have always abundant cause to be thankful to Almighty God, whose watchful care and guiding hand have been manifested in every stage of their national life, guarding and protecting them in time of peril and safely leading them in the hour of darkness and of danger.
It is fitting and proper that a nation thus favored should on one day in every year, for that purpose especially appointed, publicly acknowledge the goodness of God and return thanks to Him for all His gracious gifts.
Therefore, I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set apart Thursday, the 26th day of November instant, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and do invoke the observance of the same by all the people of the land.
On that day let all secular business be suspended, and let the people assemble in their usual places of worship and with prayer and songs of praise devoutly testify their gratitude to the Giver of Every Good and Perfect Gift for all that He has done for us in the year that has passed; for our preservation as a united nation and for our deliverance from the shock and danger of political convulsion; for the blessings of peace and for our safety and quiet while wars and rumors of wars have agitated and afflicted other nations of the earth; for our security against the scourge of pestilence, which in other lands has claimed its dead by thousands and filled the streets with mourners; for plenteous crops which reward the labor of the husbandman and increase our nation’s wealth, and for the contentment throughout our borders which follows in the train of prosperity and abundance.
And let there also be on the day thus set apart a reunion of families, sanctified and chastened by tender memories and associations; and let the social intercourse of friends, with pleasant reminiscence, renew the ties of affection and strengthen the bonds of kindly feeling.
And let us by no means forget while we give thanks and enjoy the comforts which have crowned our lives that truly grateful hearts are inclined to deeds of charity, and that a kind and thoughtful remembrance of the poor will double the pleasures of our condition and render our praise and thanksgiving more acceptable in the sight of the Lord.
Done at the city of Washington, this 2d day of November, 1885, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and tenth.