“It is resolved, as the sense of this Congress, that it is highly proper that a day of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING should be observed throughout this province, and it is accordingly recommended to the several religious assemblies in the province that Thursday, the fifteenth day of December next, be observed as a day of Thanksgiving to render thanks to Almighty God for all the blessings we enjoy.
“At the same time, we think it incumbent on this people to humble themselves before God to account for their sins, for which he hath been pleased in his righteous judgment to suffer so great a calamity to befall us, as the present controversy between Great Britain and the Colonies; as also to implore the divine blessing upon us, that by the assistance of his grace, we may be enabled to reform whatever is amiss among us, that so God may be pleased to continue to us the blessings we enjoy, and remove the tokens of his displeasure by causing harmony and union to be restored between Great Britain and the Colonies, that we may again rejoice in the smiles of our sovereign and the possession of those privileges which have been transmitted to us, and have the hopeful prospect that they shall be handed down entire to posterity under the Protestant Succession in the illustrious House of Hanover.”
The proclamation, the first for a colonial legislature, was signed by John Hancock on behalf of Massachusetts’ First Provincial Congress in October 1774. Despite the hopes it expressed for reconciliation with King George III and the British Parliament, it was clear the relationship between sovereign and colony was coming unraveled. Less than two years later, delegates from the Bay State and a dozen other colonies would declare their independence.
This was not the first Thanksgiving, of course, credit for which goes to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. And there are proclamations more famous such as Abraham Lincoln’s issued in the midst of the Civil War that his countrymen “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, tranquillity and Union.”
It was following Lincoln’s declaration that Thanksgiving, once a mostly New England tradition, became a national holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
This Thanksgiving season, we face more than our usual portion of uncertainty. We are reminded daily in news reports that our nation is heading for a “fiscal cliff” in the new year, a crushing combination of tax hikes and program cuts unless members of Congress and the president can reach a compromise to stop it. The economy remains weak, job growth is slow. Overseas, our armed forces are still engaged in Afghanistan, fighting has flared between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, while, in the background, the ever-present threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambition looms.
Yet we have much for which to be thankful. Our neighbors in New York and New Jersey are recovering, albeit slowly, from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. Despite our sluggish economy and frightening level of debt, America remains a wealthy nation, one blessed with abundant natural resources, enormous productive capacity and an innovative spirit in its people.
And most importantly, we remain a free people. We just completed a national election, the result of which disappointed 49 percent of the population. Some states, like New Hampshire, saw the balance of political power shift dramatically from one party to another. Yet there is no rioting, no “rush to the barricades,” no calling out of the military to suppress rebellion. Let us be aware of what a rare blessing this is over the scope of human history.
This Thanksgiving, there is food on our table, with plenty to share with those who haven’t enough for themselves. We are a people who, generally, are happy and content. For this, we are profoundly thankful.
We wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all.