Thanksgiving is a time to pause, reflect and be thankful. Unlike other holidays, it's not about the gifts, the giving or the getting, but about appreciation and gratitude.
This week, I have been reflecting on the many things for which I am thankful: family, friends, pets, home, church and school. But I am also thankful to be a citizen of the United States, and am thankful for the leaders that our country has had throughout our history: President George Washington, President Thomas Jefferson, President Abraham Lincoln, President Theodore Roosevelt, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Ronald Reagan, to name just a few.
It's easy to forget, in our own personal times of trial, that we, the American people, have been through much greater trials before. But it's helpful to recall and be thankful for those who have come before us and led us through times of trial, to learn from them and gather strength and inspiration. That's why I wrote "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches that Every American Should Own."
This collection is a compilation of our nation's great documents and speeches. As each one is introduced, its history, landscape and impact are presented so the reader views the events within a framework. This collection starts with the speech by Patrick Henry that coined the now famous line, "Give me liberty or give me death." It includes seven pieces from the founding of our nation and four from the Civil War. The most recent piece is President George W. Bush's speech from the well of the House of Representatives after the attack of Sept. 11.
The selections have common themes: faith, perseverance and hope.
My favorite selection is President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. Lincoln's slogan for his second presidential race, in 1864, was, "No peace without victory." A former Union general, George McClellan, ran against him, calling for immediate peace. While Lincoln wanted peace, he knew that to save the Union he had to have victory first. News that Atlanta had fallen to Gen. William Sherman on Sept. 3 provided a surge for Lincoln's campaign and resulted in the prevailing belief that the war could be won.
Two months later, the voters elected Lincoln to a second term. Biographer Ronald White Jr. wrote, "They believe in him."
The president issued the Emancipation Proclamation after asking for a sign from God. The sign he was seeking, he believed, was the Union Army's victory at Antietam. By the time of his second inaugural, Lincoln understood that he was an instrument in a larger contest to be determined by God. This belief that God was in charge of the outcome was echoed throughout his second inaugural address.