This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, November of 2023. It was penned by Rev. Stephen Herr of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does.
A little over six weeks before traveling to Gettysburg to make a “few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of a cemetery for Union soldiers who died during the battle, President Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving. Lincoln called all Americans to set aside Nov. 26 “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Though the country was experiencing the most devasting year in the Civil War yet, Lincoln’s proclamation commenced with words of hopeful reflection. He focused on the abundance of industriousness throughout the Union that included maintaining peace with other nations, growth in its population and borders, and providing resources to sustain both civilian and military populations. Lincoln understood a forgiving and merciful Most High God provided the nation with these gifts.
Lincoln’s call for a national day of thanks came three score and 14 years to the exact date President George Washington signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation. Lincoln’s Proclamation echoed Washington’s, who gave thanks for the divine hand in caring for the colonies prior to the American Revolution, protecting them during that war, and assisting the creation of a constitutional government. Both presidents recognized a holy intervention in providing for our nation’s well-being and prosperity.
Where Lincoln significantly differed from Washington was his call for penitence. Here, Lincoln demonstrates an honest, humble understanding that the “nations’ perseverance and disobedience” has led to great suffering and death. Lincoln proclaimed, “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they also do, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.“ His words were harbingers of his Second Inaugural in 1865, where he longed for the nations’ wounds to be healed. Unfortunately, when Nov. 26, 1863, arrived, Lincoln was ill and unable to work or enjoy the day of thanks he had proclaimed. Nevertheless, his proclamation of Thanksgiving echoes through the years, reminding us again of the ways Lincoln continues to inspire.
At this time of Thanksgiving, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania gives thanks to Abraham Lincoln and his remarkable legacy. We are grateful for our membership across this nation and the support of wonderful partners who help us host the annual Nov. 19 Dedication Day program and offer One Hundred Nights of Taps Gettysburg each night at the Gettysburg National Cemetery from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This holiday season, we invite you to stop by the “Return Visit” statue maintained by the fellowship on Lincoln Square and contemplate the ever-pertinent Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 OrganizationP. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA 17325Email: firstname.lastname@example.org