President Lincoln’s Second Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

The practice of presidential Thanksgiving proclamations was interrupted for 45 years between 1816-1861, to be revived by Abraham Lincoln in earnest.  He issued four proclamations between the years of 1862 – 1864.  Here is the eloquent text of his second 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation.

The year that is drawing toward 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 can not 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 unequaled 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater 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 defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax 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 battlefield, 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 if, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

President Adams’s 1798 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Over the next couple of days, I thought I would reproduce some historic Thanksgiving proclamations here at CLR Forum.

The first of these is John Adams’s in 1798.  Adams was, in my view, one of the keenest minds to grace the presidency.  In light of my colleague Mark’s post below on this year’s Thanksgiving address, it is worth taking a close look at the text of Adams’s 1798 Thanksgiving proclamation.  An interesting note — it was issued in March and proclaimed May 9, 1798, a “day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer” — a day to offer “devout addresses to the Father of Mercies.”  In other words, the decision to offer “thanks” and other entreaties to God was not a kind of pro forma “ceremonial” event that occurred sometime every late November, but an urgent happening that the grave problems of the time were believed to make necessary.  Adams’s moving proclamation follows.

A PROCLAMATION by the President of the United States of America:

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow-citizens while engaged in their lawful business on the seas – under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.

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Cornel West to Return to Union Theological Seminary

On November 17, the New York Times reported that Cornel West will be returning this summer to Union Theological Seminary—where (since 1977) he has taught intermittently for decades—to become professor of Philosophy and Christian Practices.  See Cornel West to Take Job in New York, N.Y. Times, Nov. 17, 2011, at A25.

As a cultural critic, West has been a prominent fixture, particularly upon issues of race.  In legal academia, West has supported the Critical Legal Studies movement:  For example, defending Roberto Unger in the pages of the Yale Law Journal, West characterized the long-entrenched liberalism of legal academia by connecting it to broader, more insidious social structures of violence and oppression:

[T]he liberal rule of law and civilian government—two grand achievements of most advanced capitalist societies—result from much bloodshed; bloodshed . . . from those who have been and are victimized by their flaws, imperfections, and structural deficiencies.  [This] link between legal systems and their regulatory impact on the legitimate instrumentalities of violence, as well as [law’s] role in inhibiting or enhancing the well-being of the populace, [critical legal studies] begins with an historical and social analysis of the present cultural context of legal scholarship and education.

Cornel West, Colloquy: CLS and a Liberal Critic, 97 Yale L.J. 757, 765 (1988).

Yet, as the Times notes, West locates his social activism and political bent in the progressive Baptist tradition.  This link between West’s social activism, legal criticism, and evangelical roots places his work in the same vein as that of figures like James H. Cone, his colleague at Union.  (See my commentary on Cone and his recent work The Cross and the Lynching Tree [Orbis 2011], which combines a theology of the cross with a critical look at black oppression throughout American history.)

Imago Dei & the (Forgotten) Roots of Human Rights

Campbell Law Review (Regent University Law) recently published Looking For Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition by Professor C. Scott Pryor, also of Regent Law. 33 Campbell L. Rev. 609 (2011).

Professor Pryor argues that the corresponding rights and duties of prototypical Western “human rights” were not free floating:  In Christian, Hebraic, and even Roman civil law traditions they originated in grounded conceptions of human nature.  These notions defined the human being and the rights others owed to him or her and the corresponding duties he or she owed to others.  While the Western conception of human rights has continued to develop, Pryor asserts that knowledge of these rights’ foundation has eroded; as memories fade, consensus as to what are human rights and their implications becomes harder to reach.  When this consensus becomes more remote, human-rights-based arguments lose their salience.  Pryor’s discussion of the weakening of rights discourse is analogous to Alasdair MacIntyre’s bleak premise in  After Virtue (3d ed. 2007) that, over time, “the language of morality [has reached a] state of grave disorder.”  Id. at 2.  (In my post criticizing Richard Dawkins’ overly bellicose rhetoric, I discuss After Virtue in greater depth.)

For further discussion of this problem and Pryor’s solution, please follow the jump. Read more

Winship on the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Michael P. Winship (University of Georgia) has written a book on Puritan government in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Godly Republicanism (Harvard) (forthcoming 2012). The publisher’s description follows:

Puritans did not find a life free from tyranny in the new world—they created it there. Massachusetts emerged a republic as they hammered out a vision of popular participation and limited government in church and state, spurred by Plymouth pilgrims. Godly Republicanism underscores how pathbreaking yet rooted in puritanism’s history the project was.

Michael Winship takes us first to England, where he uncovers the roots of the puritans’ republican ideals in the aspirations and struggles of Elizabethan Presbyterians. Faced with the twin tyrannies of Catholicism and the crown, Presbyterians turned to the ancient New Testament churches for guidance. What they discovered there—whether it existed or not—was a republican structure that suggested better models for governing than monarchy.

The puritans took their ideals to Massachusetts, but they did not forge their godly republic alone. In this book, for the first time, the separatists’ contentious, creative interaction with the puritans is given its due. Winship looks at the emergence of separatism and puritanism from shared origins in Elizabethan England, considers their split, and narrates the story of their reunion in Massachusetts. Out of the encounter between the separatist Plymouth pilgrims and the puritans of Massachusetts Bay arose Massachusetts Congregationalism.