As schools are closed and many adults are either already traveling or preparing for the big meal, the US is experiencing its busiest travel day of the year: the day before Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has been a national holiday since President Lincoln declared it as such in the fall of 1863, in the midst of the horrific American Civil War and just three months after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. That war took the lives of some 620,000 Americans, about 2% of the nation’s population at that time. For context, 620,000 is more than six times the population of Roanoke City today.
During the three days’ battle of Gettysburg, about one-third of the soldiers involved became casualties (killed, wounded, or captured). For Gettysburg, the casualty toll was about 51,000, or just over half the population of Roanoke City today. The Bible tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” so if Lincoln could find cause to express gratitude in the dark days of late 1863, surely we can too.
Have you noticed how many people nowadays avoid using the words “Thanksgiving”? I just called a government agency and got a voice mail saying “our office will be closed on November 24 and 25.” No mention that the office would be closed in honor of Thanksgiving, a national holiday. Many others substitute “Happy Turkey Day” for the holiday’s real name.
In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, a key element is newspeak. That is, the old and original words are gradually destroyed and replaced by newer and simpler words. By limiting vocabulary, Orwell explains, you can limit the range of people’s thoughts and expressions. By dumbing down the language, you can dumb down the populace.
You have permission to wish people a “Happy Thanksgiving.” After all, it’s an official, national holiday.
Speaking of Lincoln, below is the full text of his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Speaking of “dumbing down,” imagine a politician today speaking or writing on this level. If you find understanding parts of Lincoln’s prose a challenge, that shows how the level of discourse in our culture has been debased and simplified.
There is an ugly mindset today called “presentism.” At its core, it claims that all people of the past were hate-filled ignoramuses while our generation today enjoys a monopoly on wisdom, insight and virtue. Thus, we need to pull down all the statues and downplay the study of history, because there is not much we can learn from the past, since we modern people have all the answers already. One alumnus of Washington and Lee University explained here that presentism is driving the ambition on campus to downplay or even remove the references to, well, Washington and Lee, the school’s namesakes.
My question is: if presentism is true, then why are so many historical documents written on a level that many of us today find hard to understand, let alone replicate in our own speaking or writing?
Moreover, can you imagine a politician today confessing our national “sins” and “perverseness,” as Lincoln does here? Can you imagine the howls of derision from the chattering classes on TV, print and radio?
Let me encourage you to read it slowly and carefully.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
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
On another note, the SATIRE site The Babylon Bee dropped this piece yesterday, “FBI Closely Monitoring Gathering of Christian Nationalists.”
While some in the FBI suppressed the news of Hunter Biden’s laptop to impact the 2020 election and also cooked up the Trump-Russian collusion hoax that distracted our country for years, others have branded concerned parents speaking at school board meetings as potential “domestic terrorists” and now faith-based patriots as “Christian nationalists.”
Poking fun at these outrageous trends, The Babylon Bee writes this spoof that God- and Country-loving Americans who will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow are on the FBI’s radar screen as threats. Lincoln and his Thanksgiving Proclamation also get a mention in the satire. And note the dateline: Roanoke, VA. Somehow the people of our fair city in the Blue Ridge Mountains are also on the Babylon Bee’s radar screen. And their writers know how friendly we Roanokers are known to be. Read to the last line.
While my wife and I were vacationing in the Florida Keys recently, I met a couple from Connecticut who said “Roanoke has the friendliest people you’ll ever meet anywhere. That’s one reason we hope to retire there or at Smith Mountain Lake some day.”
As you count your blessings this Thanksgiving, we can be thankful we live in this wonderful country and also a fantastic corner of this marvelous state. On our recent travels several folks we met had been in Southwest Virginia and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and commented on how beautiful our region is.
And personally, I’m deeply thankful for you, loyal readers and supporters.