As we prepare to celebrate our Bicentennial Thanksgiving day, do we Americans realize the real source and the true extent of our many blessings? Have we Americans carelessly forgotten the real meaning of Thanksgiving day?
Truly no other nation in the history of the world has been so greatly blessed as the United States of America. Consider these facts: In 1776 there were one and a half million people living in the Thirteen Colonies. Today there are 215 million. The annual gross national product (GNP) of those colonies was less than $3 billion, whereas the total GNP of the U.S. now exceeds $1,500 billion - $ 1.5 trillion. And remember, the total annual GNP of the entire world is only about $4 trillion. This means that the U.S. produces a third of all the world's gross national product. The average American industrial worker earns between $4 and $5 per hour, and the median family income is now running about $ 14.000. Even though inflation is picking our pockets and high taxes are robbing us of much of our income, the typical American still has a higher standard of living than the citizens of any other nation. The U.S. inflation rate (about 7%) is considerably lower than that of most other industrial nations, where it is galloping along at an annual rate of 10% to 25%. Overall, the average U.S. citizen is about 25% to 35% better off than his counterpart living in many other advanced industrial nations. Furthermore, the per capita income worldwide is now approximately $1,000 - just one sixth of America's per capita income. America (the "bread basket of the world") has the largest tract of fertile land with the most favorable climate of any nation in the entire world. Even though America possesses only about 6% of the world's land and 6% of its population, she possesses 18% of its total crop land. America's vast national resources - minerals, water, timber, oil coal - give her the means to maintain the world's highest standard of living for the foreseeable future.
America's "Special Circumstances"
Other nations look at the fantastic blessings of America with amazement. The Shah of Iran recently wrote: "In no more than two centuries. the U.S. has been able to lay the foundations of astonishing technical achievement and immense material progress, the like of which no society or nation has been able to equal or surpass. In this relatively short period. America has succeeded in transforming a huge continent, blessed with almost unlimited natural resources, from the simplest beginnings into the wealthiest and most powerful country the world has seen." What, according to the Shah, is the real source of America's unique posit ion in the world today? "After 200 years the U.S. has acquired, thanks to the dynamism of her people and the special circumstances that God has provided for them. a position unique in the annals of mankind...." The Shah's statement should make every American stop and think. At this time of year, as we approach our annual Thanksgiving day. Americans should truly give thanks to God for all their boundless blessings. But tragically, too many Americans today are oblivious to the rich history and the vital meaning behind their most important national holiday.
Brief History of Thanksgiving
In December 1620, the Mayflower anchored at Plymouth Rock. Massachusetts. A small band of 103 Pilgrims landed on the bleak, wintry coast of present-day Massachusetts. intending to set up a new colony - a Christian commonwealth - where they could worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. Before landing at Plymouth, the Pilgrims drew up the "Mayflower Compact" by which they intended to govern themselves: "We whose names are underwritten. the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James. Having undertaken. for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another. Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid...." That terrible winter of 1620-21 took a frightful toll in sickness and death among the brave Pilgrims. Only 56 out of the 103 who landed there survived. But with spring, new hope budded. Each Pilgrim family now had a home. And they were blessed with the friend ship of a friendly and helpful Indian named Squanto. During the spring of 1621, the Pilgrim settlers planted 20 acres of corn, 6 of barley, plus some peas. All summer long they anxiously tended their first crop in the New World - for they knew that their very lives depended upon the successful maturing of that crop. The corn and barley did well, but the hot sun parched the peas.
The First Thanksgiving Day
This hardy band of Pilgrims were accustomed to the English thanksgiving celebrations, observed after the British had defeated the French in 1386 and the Spanish in 1588 when their "Invincible Armada" had sailed against England. Furthermore, during their brief stay in Holland. the devout Pilgrims had seen the Dutch celebrate a day of thanksgiving for their victory over the Spaniards in October 1575. It was quite natural, therefore, for the Pilgrims to observe a day of thanksgiving after anxiously watching their crops ripen during the long summer of 1621. After the harvesting of a bumper crop, their governor, William Bradford, set aside a day for special feasting and thanksgiving. For three days the women folk served the men at long tables. That first thanksgiving feast included wild turkeys, wood pigeons, partridges, ducks, geese, Indian pudding, hoecake, and fish. After dinner, the Pilgrims entertained their Indian guests by demonstrating their firearms, while the Indians did the same with their bows. Also they participated in various athletic events, games, and races.
Other Days of Thanksgiving
Many different days of thanksgiving were observed by the people of the Thirteen Colonies for various reasons during the decades which followed. Various thanksgiving days were observed in grateful appreciation for bountiful crops, victories, and deliverance from pestilence. In 1742, the governor of Georgia. James Oglethorpe, issued the following thanksgiving proclamation as a result of the dramatic victory which the English won over the Spaniards in the southeastern part of America: "... So wonderfully were we protected and preserved, that in this great and formidable conflict but few of our men were taken, and but three killed. Truly the Lord has done great things for us, by rescuing us from the power of a numerous foe, who boasted that they would conquer and dispossess us. Not our strength or might have saved us: OUR salvation is of the Lord. "Therefore it is highly becoming us to render thanks to God our deliverer...." The Continental Congress also proclaimed several days of thanksgiving during the American Revolution - days during which the colonists could rejoice in their homes and churches for victories won. In 1778, General George Washington proclaimed a day on which to give thanks for the important treaties which the Thirteen Colonies had just concluded with France.
Washington's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
In 1789, during the first year of his presidency, George Washington issued Americas first Thanksgiving day proclamation, thereby selling a precedent for succeeding presidents to follow. In Washington's national Thanksgiving proclamation, he said: "... 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." President Washington, therefore, set aside November 26, 1789, "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; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks..." Washington asked his fellow Americans to give thanks for their God-given victories during the Revolutionary War, for "tranquility. Union, and plenty... [for] constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one... for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed... for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us..."
Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
The next Thanksgiving day proclamation was made by President Abraham Lincoln. During the bloody Civil War, many Americans came to look upon that conflict as a punishment from the hand of God. Abraham Lincoln also believed that to be so. He issued the nation's second Thanksgiving day proclamation on October 3. 1863: "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, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy...." Earlier that same year, on March 30, 1863, President Lincoln had designated a day of fasting and prayer that God might restore peace and union to the nation. In that proclamation he said: "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven: we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God...." President Lincoln, therefore, proclaimed "the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer" in the hope that the American people might be reconciled to God, forgiven, and healed.
Needed: A Modern-day Lincoln
America today faces far greater threats than during our terrible Civil War. Each year millions die prematurely - because we have forgotten the laws of God. Our fair land is polluted. The food we eat, the water we drink, and the very air millions of us breathe is polluted. Violence and sex fill our TV screens. and pornography seems to be everywhere. Crime, juvenile delinquency, and lawlessness climb relentlessly. Corruption and bribery are rampant. Immorality and licentiousness fill our land. Divorce and broken homes are common. Truly, America needs another Abraham Lincoln to call the nation to fasting and prayer - with thanksgiving to God for our many blessings - so that we can be delivered from these things that seriously threaten to des troy this great nation of ours. America needs to heed the words of her first president, given in his farewell address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens." Also, we need to remember the advice of America's dynamic President Teddy Roosevelt who encouraged "the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood - the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-rice, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life." General Douglas MacArthur also gave America these sobering words on December 12, 1951: "... It is essential that every spiritual force be mobilized to defend and preserve the religious base upon which this nation was founded. For it is that base which has been the motivating impulse to our moral and national growth. History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual reawakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster." As Americans observe their upcoming Thanksgiving day, they must remember that it is meant to be a day of thanksgiving to the creator-ruler of the world for the many blessings he has bestowed upon this great nation.