In 1789, President George Washington took the first step toward making Thanksgiving the holiday we know and celebrate today.
In his Thanksgiving proclamation, Washington recommended November 26 as a day “[t]hat we may then all unite in rendering unto [God] our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation[.]”
But this day of gratitude was also a day of petition, in Washington’s eyes: He recommended that Americans offer “prayers and supplications” to God in order “to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed[.]”
The blessings we enjoy today were earned by the prudence, work and goodwill of our predecessors. They are only sustained by our continued efforts to defend and preserve them. That was true at the Founding, and it’s true today.
The families we cherish and celebrate during Thanksgiving are supported by a dense network of fellow citizens carrying out their responsibilities and by a government responsible for the discreet, faithful execution of “wise, just, and constitutional laws.” Freedom requires order; our private happiness depends upon public virtue and justice.
This Thanksgiving, we have much to be grateful for — after all, we are celebrating Thanksgiving in a nation founded on the then-unprecedented notion that all men deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have been blessed with a government explicitly designed to be checked, corrected and improved by the people it serves.
But we have much to petition for, as well.
Despite mainstream media’s insistence that the American economy is flourishing, real Americans suffer. Many can’t afford housing. More and more are pulling funds out of their 401(k) plans. More than half say they struggle to afford groceries. In big cities, they aren’t always safe. Their children are being intentionally alienated from them in the classroom. Freedoms of speech, of assembly and of religious practice are being curtailed in more and less obvious ways.
This Thanksgiving, we ought to cherish the many blessings we’ve been given in our families, our homes, our work, our rights and our nation. These things are irreplaceable, and we owe unspeakable debts of gratitude to God, who has given them to us.
But we must pray and work for the restoration of public justice.
President Joe Biden has overseen the further weaponization of the federal powers against his political enemies. His administration has worked diligently to export abortion globally and to advance it domestically. He has worked tirelessly to undermine the sacred authority of parents over their children and the economic and social props that support families.
Washington knew that gratitude needed to be paired with somber recollection of duty, both public and private, because there is nothing worthwhile in this world that exists without vigilant defense.
When we give thanks, we express gratitude not just for the bounty of our tables and safety of our homes. We thank God also for the tremendous blessing of living in a nation and at a moment in history where our hard work can make a difference in our families’ lives, where our voices and votes truly influence the organization and ends of government — and where no abuse of power or federal abdication of duty will go unchecked in the end.
And in the same breath with which we offer thanksgiving, we should pray fervently for the preservation of our nation and the protection of the liberties and rights which make it great. These rights and freedoms are not abstract — they daily grace our lives.
But they are not inevitable. Washington knew our government would not inevitably be a “blessing to all the people.” He knew such a blessing required the attention and responsibility of the governed.
Our nation and its system of governance was hard-won, the result of bitter battles and nearly endless private debates. We appreciate the liberties we enjoy today because men before us and fellow citizens today toil for their sake.
This Thanksgiving, remember what you’ve been given — and remember what it took to wrest such blessings from the jaws of a world run for all of history by fallen men.
Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.