In past years at this time, we have noted Thanksgiving proclamations in American history here at CLR Forum. On the occasion of this year’s Thanksgiving, I want to draw attention again to President John Adams’s 1798 Proclamation For a National Fast, which he issued on March 23 of that year and prescribed for the month of May. Two things are striking to me about the proclamation, though of course they are not unique to this particular proclamation.
First, days of public prayer are closely associated in the mind of Adams (and likely in the minds of his audience) with “humiliation”–that is, with the recognition of the limits of human power, with humility, and with the need and desire for guidance beyond oneself to set to the affairs of governance wisely. It has longed seemed to me that this was the principal function of legislative and other public prayer. Is is an irony of history that legislative prayer has now come to signify, in the minds of many of its opponents, something like the opposite of “humiliation.”
Second, note the emphasis on fasting. The idea behind such days was not to gorge on as much food as one could hold down, or to acknowledge one’s own comfortably sated life, or to revel in the capacity to spend lots of money on entirely useless nonsense on “Black Friday.” It was to thank God for one’s gifts by abstaining from consumption.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to stuff the turkey and, then (Grace having been said) myself. A very happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers.
As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and 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 cannot 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 and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments Read more