Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

By Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, November 27, 2014, 8:35 AM

Editor’s note: For quite a while now, social media enthusiasts have been using the hashtag #tbt (or, in long-form, “Throwback Thursday”) as a way to reminisce about the past. Now Lawfare has decided to get in on the action by means of a new feature. Each week, Lawfare will turn back in time to a specific event, and briefly explain how it relates to today’s security and/or legal environment.  

If you clicked on Lawfare in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, something must be horribly wrong. Trying to temper the boredom of forced family fun? Desperately looking for conversation starters with Awkward Cousin Martha? Attempting to stave off the relentless tidal pull of a gravy-based food coma? Looking for a relentlessly patriotic reading for your Thanksgiving table? Whatever it is, Lawfare’s got you covered. To celebrate the occasion, we’re throwing back far---real far---with a focus on a unique exercise of executive authority: Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations. All of them.

Almost all Presidents, with a few notable exceptions, took the time during their tenure to issue a statement in honor of the holiday. But while most sites focus on what the current President’s statement will be, we were feeling gluttonous: Why restrict ourselves to the bland, dry offerings of one Presidential Proclamation when we can cut and paste sentences from all of them into one glorious turducken of a decree?

All of the sentences in the below statement are amalgamated from nearly 250 years worth of Proclamations. Each highlighted link denotes the first word of a different president’s address. While the following does hew to a rough chronological progression, see if you can guess which Presidents said which sentences.

A Synthetic Thanksgiving Proclamation from the Presidency

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power; and as it is likewise a plain dictate of duty and a strong sentiment of nature that in circumstances of great urgency and seasons of imminent danger earnest and particular supplications should be made to Him who is able to defend or to destroy; no people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year. He has permitted us to multiply ships upon our lakes and rivers and upon the high seas; with local exceptions, health has been among the many blessings enjoyed. Under a sense of these infinite obligations to the Great Ruler of Times and Seasons and Events, the falling leaf admonishes us that the time of our sacred duty is at hand. Constant thanksgiving and gratitude are due from the American people, a highly favored people. No great pestilence has invaded our shores. Liberal employment waits upon labor. Abundant crops have rewarded the efforts of the husbandman. Increased comforts have come to the home. The national finances have been strengthened, and public credit has been sustained and made firmer.

A great democracy like ours, a democracy based upon the principles of orderly liberty, can be perpetuated only if in the heart of ordinary citizens there dwells a keen sense of righteousness, and justice. We should earnestly pray that this spirit of righteousness and justice may grow in the hearts of all of us. Failure would not only be a dreadful thing for us, but a dreadful thing for all mankind, because it would mean loss of hope for all who believe in the power and the righteousness of liberty.

Strong in the sense of our own rights and inspired by as strong a sense of the rights of others, we shall never again be divided or wonder what stuff we are made of. In plenty, security and peace, our virtuous and self-reliant people face the future, its duties and its opportunities. Thankfully, the great trial of humanity, though indeed we bore our part as well as we were able, left us comparatively little scarred. The measure of passing adversity which has come upon us should deepen the spiritual life of the people, quicken their sympathies and spirit of sacrifice for others, and strengthen their courage. Observing the Golden Rule, we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed.

God’s help to us has been great in this year of march towards world-wide liberty. For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving. We have won them with the courage and the blood of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We have won them by the sweat and ingenuity of our workers, farmers, engineers, and industrialists. We have won them with the devotion of our women and children. We have bought them with the treasure of our rich land. But above all we have won them because we cherish freedom beyond riches and even more than life itself. With gratitude in our hearts for all our blessings, may we be ever mindful of the obligations inherent in our strength.

Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril. Our men are engaged again, as they have been on so many other Thanksgivings, on a foreign field fighting for freedom. All about us, doubts and fears threaten our faith in the principles which are the fiber of our society. Although some may see division, we give thanks that ours is one Nation, of many diverse people, living in unity under the precept E Pluribus Unum. America and the world have changed enormously since the first Thanksgiving. A civilization whose farthest reach was once the earth’s uncharted seas has now plumbed the secrets of outer space. We have tamed a continent. Even in times of trial and frustration we have much to be thankful for, in our personal lives and in our Nation.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should reflect on the full meaning of this day as we enjoy the fellowship that is so much a part of the holiday festivities. Rooted deeply in our Judeo-Christian heritage, the practice of offering thanksgiving underscores our unshakable belief in God as the foundation of our Nation and our firm reliance upon Him from Whom all blessings flow. By remaining grateful for, and faithful to, that divine commission, America has become a model of freedom and justice to the world---as our pilgrim ancestors envisioned, a shining "city upon a hill." Still only a few generations removed from our Nation's founders, we continue to blaze a trail toward stability and justice. Aspiring to lift ourselves closer to God's grace, we remain determined to ease the pain of the many people who know only poverty and despair. Clearly, ours is an unfinished journey.

Throughout the Thanksgiving holiday, let us renew our commitment to make our country and our world better. As we gather once again among loved ones, let us also reach out to our neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand. This is a time for us to renew our bonds with one another, and we can fulfill that commitment by serving our communities and our Nation throughout the year.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.