by Lois Bolin
Old Naples Historian with WWII Veteran Peter Thomas
George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the United States national government in 1789, but it is Sarah Buell Hale, ‘editress’ of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who deserves the credit for making Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. After 17 years of
advocacy, Abraham Lincoln issued Thanksgiving national proclamation on October 3, 1863 noting, “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.”
Throughout American history, the idea of God’s connection to man is prevalent and relevant because without those shared values, the idea of a United States and its principles could not have been birthed.
The genesis of a Thanksgiving began when the Pilgrims, financed by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, sailed to America in 1620. For weeks they were at the mercy of the gale force winds from Atlantic storm. John Howland, an indentured servant, weary from weeks below deck, decided to fill his lungs with fresh air. Before he could retreat below, a gigantic wave washed him overboard to what seemed like certain death. As he blindly struggled to surface, something brushed his arm. He grabbed hold of the topsail’s halyard and was pulled to safety wherein his relieved passage mates acknowledged that it was the hand of God that saved him.
The Pilgrims understood that earlier new world settlements had failed because no governing body or principles had been established, thus the Mayflower Compact was drafted. It was the first written laws of, by and for the people – a covenant between God, man, and each other – the cornerstone for later generation’s ‘sacred honor.’
Howland, along with seven other Pilgrims assumed the colony’s debt in exchange for a fur trade monopoly. This emergence of capitalism, necessitated by the two year failed ‘communal’ experiment and not the harsh winters and poor soil as many have been taught, also led to the policy which required each family to farm for themselves
or the commonwealth. The collective surplus led the Pilgrims to give thanks for their bounty. Like the success of our country, Thanksgiving’s germination depended upon faith, self-governing and capitalism.
The Mayflower Compact served as the foundation for the Declaration of Independence, some 150 years later, where five references to God can be found, two in the first paragraph, one in the middle, and two in the last: …the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle… Who is responsible for “the laws of nature” but God… endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… our cause was left to God as judge… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a descendent of Howland, delivered a speech to Congress – 165 years after the Declaration of Independence. He said, “…in America’s righteous might, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”
As Allied forces prepared for the D-Day invasion, FDR delivered a prayer over the airwaves to the nation, “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day has set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
The Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence were established and held together by a belief in God, which bound them to uphold their sacred honor. Without invoking God, and adhering to this code of honor, there would have been no United States – no Thanksgiving.
The United States Senate, on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, unanimously passed the WWII Memorial Prayer Act legislation, to add FDR’s D-Day Landing Prayer to the WWII memorial. The following month, the House of Representatives passed it by a bipartisan majority.
Now it is up to President Obama to add his signature.
As we gather with family and friends this November 11th for Veterans Day and November 27th, for Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to those, who have made our independence and bounty possible and envision FDR’s D-Day complete prayer at the WWII memorial to acknowledge the ‘sacred honor’ of America and our Greatest Generation.