From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):
Words of Thanksgiving
At Thanksgiving, it is good to remember our history for which we give thanks.
Throughout American history, Presidents have spoken on America’s good fortune and given thanks to our Creator. In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, as a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” dedicated to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, and that will be.”
Later, President Lincoln designated the final Thursday in November as a national “day of Thanksgiving and praise.” The year was 1863, and despite the war that raged he proclaimed America would “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln also asked “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.”
One hundred years after President Lincoln’s words, President John F. Kennedy reflected on the words of Washington and Lincoln, and issued moving words of his own, saying: “Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers--for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”
His proclamation also recognized Virginia, noting “over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.”
The reason he mentioned Virginia is that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1619 at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Led by Captain John Woodlief, they prayed “We ordain that this day of our ship's arrival … in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
The pilgrims did not arrive at Plymouth until 1620, and did not hold their Thanksgiving until November 1621.
In a recent historical moment, President George W. Bush (Bush 2) made a secret, unplanned visit to Iraq for Thanksgiving Day 2003 in the midst of a war. It is reported neither his wife nor parents were aware of his plans. His appearance shocked the soldiers as he thanked them, “You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq, so we don't have to face them in our own country… We thank you for your service, we're proud of you, and America stands solidly behind you.”
Throughout history, Thanksgiving has given Americans an opportunity to express thanks and gratitude, and here in the United States we have much to be thankful for. Among other things, I am thankful for my family, friends, and the freedoms we enjoy. I am also thankful for those who have been dedicated to protecting these freedoms.
I am proud of the rich history of both Virginia and our Nation of celebrating thanks to the Almighty.
We Gather Together
Also at this time of year, I reflect on a favorite hymn of thanks, “We Gather Together.” I am especially moved by the lyrics ‘Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.’ This hymn, while recognized as a popular American song, has Dutch origins. When written, the Dutch were at war to liberate their nation from the powerful Habsburg Dynasty which controlled both the Spanish and Austrian Empires. The Dutch were forbidden from gathering to worship as they wished because they were predominantly Protestants, while the Habsburgs were Catholic. Later, pilgrims coming from both the Netherlands (Dutch) and England to the new world brought the hymn to America. The words and theme fit perfectly with the American Thanksgiving tradition, and have become a well-known song at churches during this holiday.
No matter your faith, I hope you and your loved ones have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.