10 min read
Posted on 11.26.14
  • 10 min read
  • Posted on 11.26.14

Presidents, like mayors, probably don't write their own proclamations. Yet, there is in the study of such documents - especially the holiday ones - a useful exercise. Even the ghosts who write such things are bound to reflect the tones of their principals and the tenor of their times.

Every year, the White House's incumbent issues a document that names a single day in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving.

With ten spare minutes and the sense that words of thanksgiving are always worth reviewing, we looked up several past presidential proclamations using  "in the mayor's lifetime" and "every ten years" as our parameters.

Dwight D Eisenhower, 1954

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Early in our history the Pilgrim fathers inaugurated the custom of dedicating one day at harvest time to rendering thanks to Almighty God for the bounties of the soil and for His mercies throughout the year. At this autumnal season tradition suggests and our hearts require that we follow that hallowed custom and bow in reverent thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us individually and as a Nation.

We are grateful that our beloved country, settled by those forebears in their quest for religious freedom, remains free and strong, and that each of us can worship God in his own way, according to the dictates of his conscience.

We are grateful for the innumerable daily manifestations of Divine goodness in affairs both public and private, for equal opportunities for all to labor and to serve, and for the continuance of those homely joys and satisfactions which enrich our lives.

With gratitude in our hearts for all our blessings, may we be ever mindful of the obligations inherent in our strength, and may we rededicate ourselves to unselfish striving for the common betterment of mankind.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

As the harvest season draws to a close and our storehouses bulge with the bounty of the land, it is our desire to observe, in the custom and tradition of our forebears, a special day dedicated to giving thanks to God--a day on which to lay aside our daily tasks and cares and pay joyous homage to Him. We are impelled to raise our voices in His praise and to proclaim our heartfelt gratitude for another year in which we have been blessed with a bountiful harvest, with intellectual, humanitarian, economic, scientific, and technical advances and achievements, and with other gains too numerous to mention.

Although we have been blessed with unsurpassed prosperity, we recognize that poverty and want exist throughout the world--even among us--and we pledge ourselves to the eradication of those evils.

We know, too, that the foundation for a peaceful world is still to be built and that even now armed strife exists in parts of the world. We are saddened that gallant men of our Armed Services have fallen in the eternal quest for peace with freedom, dignity, and justice for all. We share with their bereaved families and friends a sense of tragic loss. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, we resolve "that these honored dead shall not have died in vain," and vow that their loss will spur us ever onward until man's great dream of universal peace is realized.

Yet we are filled with an instinctive impulse to give thanks for

--our free society of free men, free institutions, and free elections;

--our freedom of speech, our freedom of the press, and our freedom to worship as our conscience dictates;

--our emphasis upon the dignity, equality, and worth of man;

--our humanitarian instincts;

--our unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;

--our confidence in our ability to meet the challenges of today and of the future.

For these are the things that set us apart as a Nation--that made our Nation great-that will keep our Nation great.

So as our forefathers in Virginia, in New England, and throughout this land have done for more than three and one-half centuries, let us appoint a special day on which all of us, in keeping with the dictates of our own conscience, will give thanks to the Lord for His manifold blessings. And on that day, let us rededicate ourselves to meeting the challenges of the present with the fortitude and faith with which our forefathers met the challenges of the past.

Gerald Ford, 1974

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

America and the world have changed enormously since the first thanksgiving 353 years ago. From a tiny coastal enclave on an untamed continent, we have grown into the mightiest, freest nation in human history. A civilization whose farthest reach was once the earth's uncharted seas has now plumbed the secrets of outer space.

But the fundamental meaning of Thanksgiving still remains the same. It is a time when the differences of a diverse people are forgotten and all Americans join in giving thanks to God for the blessings we share - the blessings of freedom, opportunity and abundance that make America so unique.

This year, in the midst of plenty, we still face serious problems and massive challenges. In giving thanks for the many things we hold dear, let us also pray for the courage, resourcefulness and sense of purpose we will need to continue America's saga of progress, and to be worthy heirs of the Pilgrim spirit. May we, too, find the strength and vision to leave behind us a better world, and an example that will inspire future generations to new achievements.

Ronald Reagan, 1984

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

As we remember the faith and values that made America great, we should recall that our tradition of Thanksgiving is older than our Nation itself. Indeed, the native American Thanksgivings antedated those of the new Americans. In the words of the eloquent Seneca tradition of the Iroquois, "... give it your thought, that with one mind we may now give thanks to Him our Creator."

From the first Pilgrim observance in 1621, to the nine years before and during the American Revolution when the Continental Congress declared days of Fast and Prayer and days of Thanksgiving, we have turned to Almighty God to express our gratitude for the bounty and good fortune we enjoy as individuals and as a nation. America truly has been blessed.

This year we can be especially thankful that real gratitude to God is inscribed, not in proclamations of government, but in the hearts of all our people who come from every race, culture, and creed on the face of the Earth. And as we pause to give thanks for our many gifts, let us be tempered by humility and by compassion for those in need, and let us reaffirm through prayer and action our determination to share our bounty with those less fortunate.

William J. Clinton, 1994

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

As the end of another year draws closer, we are again filled with thankfulness for the blessings of a fruitful land. For more than 200 years, Americans have welcomed autumn's harvest with gratitude and goodwill. On Thanksgiving Day, we set aside our daily routines to acknowledge the bounty and mercy of Divine Providence. With full hearts, we bask in the warmth of family and community gatherings, and we reflect on the challenge, responsibility, and privilege that are ours as citizens of these United States.

It is our great fortune to live in a country of abundance and promise-a land of freedom for all. 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.

Our destination must be to create the means for every one of us to prosper, to enjoy sound education, meaningful work experience, protective health care, and personal security. It is our responsibility to prompt the national conscience so that by fostering virtue, wisdom, and moral values, we rejoice in our growth as a people.

Our challenge is to give assistance and encouragement that are equitable and just and that alleviate human suffering. Our responsibility is to nurture the processes of peace and equal human rights everywhere with compassion and concern. And like other pioneers before us, it is our privilege to be able to aim toward lofty goals.

Across this land as people gather together with loved ones to savor the bounty of the Thanksgiving Holiday, I invite each family, each religious congregation, each community and city, to celebrate your experience of the American heritage. Reach out in friendship and cooperation to the people of your hometown. Take responsibility for bringing harmony and hope, peace and prosperity to all of the inhabitants of our world. Share the privileges of freedom and the challenge of working for a better world.

George W. Bush, 2004

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

All across America, we gather this week with the people we love to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives. We are grateful for our freedom, grateful for our families and friends, and grateful for the many gifts of America. On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge that all of these things, and life itself, come from the Almighty God.

Almost four centuries ago, the Pilgrims celebrated a harvest feast to thank God after suffering through a brutal winter. President George Washington proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, and President Lincoln revived the tradition during the Civil War, asking Americans to give thanks with "one heart and one voice." Since then, in times of war and in times of peace, Americans have gathered with family and friends and given thanks to God for our blessings.

Thanksgiving is also a time to share our blessings with those who are less fortunate. Americans this week will gather food and clothing for neighbors in need. Many young people will give part of their holiday to volunteer at homeless shelters and food pantries. On Thanksgiving, we remember that the true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of the American people. By seeking out those who are hurting and by lending a hand, Americans touch the lives of their fellow citizens and help make our Nation and the world a better place.

This Thanksgiving, we express our gratitude to our dedicated firefighters and police officers who help keep our homeland safe. We are grateful to the homeland security and intelligence personnel who spend long hours on faithful watch. And we give thanks for the Americans in our Armed Forces who are serving around the world to secure our country and advance the cause of freedom. These brave men and women make our entire Nation proud, and we thank them and their families for their sacrifice.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we thank God for His blessings and ask Him to continue to guide and watch over our Nation.

Barack Obama, 2014

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Thanksgiving Day invites us to reflect on the blessings we enjoy and the freedoms we cherish. As we gather with family and friends to take part in this uniquely American celebration, we give thanks for the extraordinary opportunities we have in a Nation of limitless possibilities, and we pay tribute to all those who defend our Union as members of our Armed Forces. This holiday reminds us to show compassion and concern for people we have never met and deep gratitude toward those who have sacrificed to help build the most prosperous Nation on earth. These traditions honor the rich history of our country and hold us together as one American family, no matter who we are or where we come from.

Nearly 400 years ago, a group of Pilgrims left their homeland and sailed across an ocean in pursuit of liberty and prosperity. With the friendship and kindness of the Wampanoag people, they learned to harvest the rich bounty of a new world.

Together, they shared a successful crop, celebrating bonds of community during a time of great hardship. Through times of war and of peace, the example of a Native tribe who extended a hand to a new people has endured. During the American Revolution and the Civil War, days of thanksgiving drew Americans together in prayer and in the spirit that guides us to better days, and in each year since, our Nation has paused to show our gratitude for our families, communities, and country.

With God's grace, this holiday season we carry forward the legacy of our forebears. In the company of our loved ones, we give thanks for the people we care about and the joy we share, and we remember those who are less fortunate. At shelters and soup kitchens, Americans give meaning to the simple truth that binds us together: we are our brother's and our sister's keepers. We remember how a determined people set out for a better world -- how through faith and the charity of others, they forged a new life built on freedom and opportunity.

The spirit of Thanksgiving is universal. It is found in small moments between strangers, reunions shared with friends and loved ones, and in quiet prayers for others. Within the heart of America's promise burns the inextinguishable belief that together we can advance our common prosperity -- that we can build a more hopeful, more just, and more unified Nation. This Thanksgiving, let us recall the values that unite our diverse country, and let us resolve to strengthen these lasting ties.

(Image courtesy of Robert Hensley, entitled "Fall Leaves," and has not been altered.)