The Obama Watch

Obama’s Godless Thanksgiving

Abraham Lincoln and the presidential expression of American values.

By 11.23.10

Send to Kindle

Did Abraham Lincoln just defeat Barack Obama?

Sure, there was that economy thing and ObamaCare and, well… the usual long list that began spicing up Republican poll numbers and the final results on election day.

But the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday reminds that maybe, just maybe, the real answer to the thorough repudiation of the Obama White House can be found in, of all things, two very different presidential proclamations for Thanksgiving.

The first, which was literally the first, was signed by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863.

The second, by now a standard presidential duty of Lincoln's successors, was issued by Barack Obama on November 23, 2009.

The difference? The very notable difference that has been in one form or another telegraphed to the American people by the Obama White House.

God and His connection to American values had suddenly gone missing from a Thanksgiving Proclamation by a President of the United States.

The story of Lincoln's proclamation is fairly well known. Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor of the day (famous, among other things, for writing the words to the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb) noticed that in parts of America -- New England most prominently -- Thanksgiving had been celebrated with something approaching regularity since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. In other sections -- the South, for one -- the holiday was barely known if at all.

Hale was nothing if not a believer in God and the American Union, as well as being a fierce opponent of slavery. She had made it her business to advocate and get action on those symbols that celebrated America and what today is known as American exceptionalism. She is said to have raised $30,000 for the construction of the monument celebrating the battle of Bunker Hill -- and when funds were still needed went to work getting readers to donate to the cause. They did -- and the monument celebrating the first major battle of the American Revolution still stands in Boston. She was one of the first to urge the preservation of George Washington's legendary home at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Since 1846 Hale had written editorials calling for a uniform national celebration of Thanksgiving, writing four presidents and dozens and dozens of congressmen to push her cause. Now, as America was embroiled in a ferocious Civil War where the concept of "Union" was very much in play, Hale tried again with a fifth president, Abraham Lincoln.

"Sir," briskly began this formidable editor, going on to make the case that Thanksgiving "now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."

Lincoln responded with a Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863. He was only a month from dedicating a cemetery to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg, deep into both the conduct of the war while soon to deliver one of history's most famous speeches in which he would say "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln understood the importance of Hale's message.

Secretary of State William Seward, the one-time Lincoln rival now a devoted friend and political soul mate, wrote the draft for the proclamation. Whether Lincoln tinkered with it is unknown. Read it, approve of it -- and most importantly affix his signature to it -- he did.

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, fixing the last Thursday of November as the official holiday, is to this day a sterling illustration of the relationship Lincoln and millions of Americans of his time -- and ours -- saw between God, religious faith, and the existence of America itself.

References to God or the Almighty and the relationship between the Creator and the idea that is America begin in the brief Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation's second sentence and continue throughout.

• There is an immediate nod to the "heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God."

Next comes a reference to "the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."

There was an invitation: "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."

Then, a recommendation: "And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him."

And a commendation to: "commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife."

Lincoln wanted to make sure Americans would "implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation."

Last but not least, for America Lincoln wanted God "to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

These seven separate, repeated references to God in Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation unmistakably signaled Lincoln's understanding of the core meaning of that long ago voyage of a tiny band of Pilgrims who arrived on the wintry shores of New England in November of 1620.

It was the Pilgrims, of course, who first set the course of American history with the writing of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of what would become the American nation. Signed on board the namesake small ship which had brought them across the cold and stormy Atlantic in search of religious freedom, the Mayflower Compact immediately acknowledged the role of God in the New World. The very first sentence set the tone that Lincoln would seek to immortalize with his Thanksgiving Proclamation 243 years later. The sentence was simple, straightforward and direct:

In the name of God, Amen.

What followed in the even shorter Compact were still more references to "the Glory of God," the "advancement of the Christian Faith," and being "in the presence of God." It was here that the connection between the idea of America and, as the later Declaration of Independence would have it, "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" was established. When in 1776 it came time for Thomas Jefferson and his small committee to put pen to paper in the heat of a Philadelphia summer, there were already 156 years of American tradition challenging the world to the realization that if no one else on the globe understood the connection, Americans realized of themselves "that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As American history moved forward from Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, other Presidents consistently returned to the same theme, reaching out every Thanksgiving season to remind the latest generation of Americans of the nation's connection to God. Whether it was Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or John F. Kennedy, or Lincoln's Republican successors Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, every president made certain to underline the connection between America, Thanksgiving and the role of God.

• Franklin Roosevelt made of his 1940 Thanksgiving Proclamation a prayer, which began: "On the same day, in the same hour, let us pray: 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."

Harry Truman opened his 1946 Thanksgiving Proclamation this way: "At this season, when the year is drawing to a close, tradition suggests and our hearts require that we render humble devotion to Almighty God for the mercies bestowed upon us by His goodness. Devoutly grateful to Divine Providence for the richness of our endowment and the many blessings received, may we continue to give a good account of our stewardship by utilizing our resources in the service of mankind."

• For Dwight Eisenhower the holiday was about "rendering thanks to Almighty God for the bounties of the soil and for His mercies throughout the year."

JFK opened with a quote: "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord."

Ronald Reagan's began his references to God in the third sentence of his very first Thanksgiving Proclamation: "In keeping with America's heritage, one day each year is set aside for giving thanks to God for all of His blessings."

In other words, since Abraham Lincoln began this very American tradition, all of his successors have made a point as the chief magistrate of the land of reminding Americans of the role of the Almighty in the creation of the American Republic. In consistently and unhesitatingly doing so they have highlighted the need for "thanksgiving" to variously, "God," "the Almighty," "Divine Providence" or some other formulation of a higher power.

Until, that is, the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 2009 -- the first from President Barack Obama. After a passing reference to a George Washington quote (the first President had observed "by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,") -- that's it. God does a vanishing act from the Obama Thanksgiving Proclamation. What Americans get instead are thanks to "Native Americans," the fact that Americans "observe traditions from every culture," must band together to be "serving our communities" and "have gratitude for all we have received in the past year; to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own; and to share our bounty with others."

To whom that gratitude should be expressed is clear. That would be anybody but God.

What is expressed is a collection of far-left politically correct idolatry, collectivism as a Thanksgiving Proclamation for (and from) the community organizer.

One can only marvel at how deeply, instinctively negative is the reaction of Americans after a mere two years of the Obama presidency. What began with such hope for so many, and in political terms solid start-off marks of presidential approval in the 70% range, has plummeted as Americans began to focus on an Obama trait dismissed during the election as a curiosity at best or at worse some sort of aberration.

Late, perhaps, but the realization of what it means to have a president sit for twenty years in the pews of a preacher whose most famous line is "God damn America!" has hit home.

For two years Americans have watched uneasily as, incident by incident images began to accumulate of a President ashamed of the traditions and culture of his own country. The traditions at the very heart of the celebratory document known as the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

This is a president who could not bring himself to acknowledge American exceptionalism, saying instead: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

He managed not once but twice to misquote the Declaration of Independence itself, saying on one of these occasions, the Hispanic Caucus Institute's Annual Awards Gala on Sept. 15: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights: life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's what makes us unique." The phrase "endowed by their Creator" simply vanished in the Obama telling. Seven days later, he did it again at a fundraiser, this time mentioning "inalienable rights" that "everybody is endowed with." Exactly who endowed "everybody" the President did not or would not say. Eventually, after questioning at a White House briefing and as things turned desperate on the campaign trail, he began using "Creator" in his speeches.

His outreach to Muslims should, under the circumstances of a post-9/11 world, not be considered extraordinary. George W. Bush reached out as well at a time when it counted. But only Obama has managed to give the impression to Americans that he actually sympathizes with the Muslim extremist hatred for America -- many believing he is in fact some sort of secret Muslim -- and that in fact he repeatedly demonstrates by word and deed that American history and its role in the world is in need of continuous apology.

All of which comes back to the hard political fact of this Thanksgiving week of 2010.

The Obama approach has just been thoroughly repudiated by Americans no longer startled but outraged by what many see as their President's shame of America. His refusal to discuss the role of God and the Almighty in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation serves as a symbol of just what has so alienated the American people from this President.

Surely the 2010 election was not lost by Democrats because of a Thanksgiving Proclamation. It was lost without doubt because whether the subject was jobs, the economy, ObamaCare, the size and role of government or America's role in the world, this administration has become the very symbol of a radical, far-left agenda so repulsed by the ideas that brought America's founding fathers to these shores that the only thing of which they are capable is silence or rage.

Thanksgiving Proclamations not being the ideal vehicle for leftist rage, silence was apparently chosen for 2009.

What will be said this week when the White House issues the second Thanksgiving Proclamation of the Age of Obama?

God only knows.

Maybe He will make a comeback to the place and position Abraham Lincoln and his successors save one understood were, in Lincoln's words, "justly due" on the "day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

But in a curious fashion indeed, the 2010 election was about the values of Barack Obama.

And Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln won.

Happy Thanksgiving, America.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.