It was in the fall of 1774 when the delegates to the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia where we gain a clear perspective on the mindset they each had as they began their work. Before their discussions and their speeches, before their concerns, agreements and disagreements were aired, they sought God. September 7, 1774 was the date when the meeting began with the reading of Psalm 35 which concludes with a verse of joyous gratitude, “And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.” The reading was followed by prayer led by Rev. Jacob Duch`e, the Pastor of Christ’s Church. According to John Adams, when the Rev. Duch`e finished praying, even the Quakers were moved with emotion!
In 1779 President Jefferson wrote “I, Thomas Jefferson appoint a day of public Thanksgiving to the Almighty God and to ask Him that He would pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the Gospel; that He would spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; … and that He would establish these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue.”
In 1787 during the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin reminded the members of their need for wisdom as they searched for political truth… “In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.”
Our first President George Washington in 1789 issued a proclamation that began with these words: 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 favor; 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 public 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.”
Perhaps one of the most meaningful proclamations comes to us from President Abraham Lincoln at a pivotal point in Lincoln’s spiritual life. As he later explained to a clergyman: “When I left Springfield Illinois, to assume the Presidency, I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.”
The dramatic spiritual impact resulting from that experience was incredibly visible in Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation, “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 cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever- watchful providence of Almighty God. 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.”
On Thanksgiving Day, 1987 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed, “let us, in this unbroken chain of observance, dedicate ourselves to honor anew the Author of Liberty and to publicly acknowledge our debt to all those who have sacrificed so much in our behalf. May our gratitude always be coupled with petitions for divine guidance and protection for our nation and with ready help for our neighbors in time of need. Now, therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 26, 1987, as a National Day of Thanksgiving, and I call upon the citizens of this great nation to gather together in homes and places of worship on that day of thanks to affirm by their prayers and their gratitude the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.” From our thankful beginning until now, and from this time forth and forever more, may our trust be in the God of Heaven and may we as American’s be thankful!