Catholic Wisconsin – WCRIS

Thanksgiving time is coming and that turns our minds to all the blessings we’ve experienced this past year at the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools (WCRIS).

As students of history and public policy, we are grateful to President Abraham Lincoln, who used his authority 159 years ago to create that annual ritual we share with all our fellow citizens.

While it may not be as popular for school children to reenact the first Thanksgiving as 1600s Pilgrims with black, buckled shoes, tall hats, white bonnets and aprons, many of the state’s private schools will instead celebrate the creation of this modern holiday by our government officials.

Along the way, you’ll be happy to know that our students will be reminded of the abundant blessings of our Creator. They’ll learn that despite the tumultuous times, the nation held together and endured great challenges for the benefit of all.

Some say the state and nation’s current political acrimony is challenging us once again. We can do no better than to join our school children in recalling President Lincoln’s declaration.

Thankfully, our religious schools do not have to shrink from the truth of its reliance on God. Staff, students and families can even celebrate freely what may be conveniently ignored in the public sector.

Originating from President George Washington’s proclamation for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789, President Lincoln proclaimed the following from Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3, 1863. It’s from various, reputable Lincoln resources, and reflects the original spelling:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”

“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

“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, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, 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, tranquilty and Union.”

“In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.”

With little exception and regardless of political party, future presidents recognized the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November. But during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November, extending the Christmas shopping season for suffering businesses. The holiday was later moved to the fourth Thursday of the month, thereby solidifying the holiday we celebrate today.

All of this is proof that the long hand of government affects us all. Would that all such interventions be so humbling.