(NOTE: This brief essay was originally written by the below-signed as a Preface for his family’s practice of Family Worship on the occasion of Thanksgiving. It has been moderately edited, with permission, for adaptation to a more general audience.)

 

Fellow Wisconsinites:

As you know, many Christians across America set aside a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day or Thanksgiving Eve to observe, not a Festival of the Church, but a civic holiday instituted by the government of the united States of America, for the purpose of recognizing that the many temporal blessings we receive are given to us by God, and for the purpose of returning solemn thanks to Him. Chief among these blessings is the Freedom of Religion itself, enshrined in the first of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution – not just a freedom to set aside an hour or so a week to merely worship according to our private beliefs, but the liberty to daily live and publicly speak according to the eternal convictions of Christian conscience.

The Pilgrims, Religious Liberty, and the First Written Constitution

The event known as the “First Thanksgiving,” celebrated by the Pilgrims in November of 1621, is a fitting demonstration of this fact. Seeking the liberty to live according to the doctrines of Holy Writ – as they were convinced the Scriptures taught them – the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and escaped to Holland, but found over time that the language barrier, the sparse economic opportunities and the libertine culture of the the Dutch threatened their perpetuation. Desiring to live freely according to the convictions of religious conscience and ready to forge their own economic opportunities, after nearly fifteen years in Holland they set sail in 1620 for the New World aboard the Mayflower to found a colony and build a life unmolested by civil laws and cultural mores that waged war against their convictions. After a difficult month at sea, they landed off the coast of Massachusetts in November, naming the place they eventually chose as the site of their colony after the port from which they departed: Plymouth Colony. Before disembarkation, however, understanding that a covenant is not only an agreement between God and man, but between men as well, and having already formed themselves as a congregation under this form of agreement, they again invoked the name of God to covenant with one another and form themselves into a Civil Body Politic, in the following words of the Mayflower Compact:

    We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

Widely acknowledged as the world’s first written constitution, this brief document recognizes from General Revelation (Natural Law) that civil government is a social contract which draws its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and affirms from Special Revelation that all government is instituted by God (Rom. 13:1). As such, the Mayflower Compact is the seed of American society and government.

With much prayer, labour and travail, the Pilgrims proceeded to build their colony. A hard winter beset them that first year, with starvation and sickness causing the death of a good number of them, but the Lord blessed them with friends, rather than enemies, from among the surrounding natives, and blessed them further with healthy crops and plentiful harvest the following year. Knowing from Whom all blessings flow, the Pilgrims held a three-day Feast of Thanksgiving to the Lord that following November, and invited their new-found American friends to join them.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1914. Public Domain.

Thanksgiving: A Social Custom of a Christian People
that was Embraced by a Government which Represented Them

By the beginning of the 18th Century, the custom of recognizing God as the giver of many blessings, and of returning thanks to Him by setting aside time to feast in His name from the abundance of His temporal blessings, had become a fixture throughout New England communities. It wasn’t until the War of the Revolution, however, that Thanksgiving was first officially instituted as a national holiday in America. The first Congressional Thanksgiving Day Proclamationi was issued by the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777 – the day after news reached them of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a triumph which turned the tide of the War. It was authored by Mr. Samuel Adams, future Governor of Massachusetts, and cousin of future President of the United States, Mr. John Adams.

Going further than merely setting aside time for the offering of thanks to God for victory in war, this Proclamation declared the adoration of God, in gratitude for the many blessings received from Him, to be an indispensable duty of all men, and urged the American people to express with one heart and one voice the gratefulness of their hearts, to make “penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and [make] humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance” and to pray that God would “take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Not only for the temporal blessings of civil liberty, plentiful harvest and victory in war, the first nationally recognized Day of Thanksgiving was equally a day founded on the message of Law and Gospel, of returning thanks to God for the eternal blessing of the forgiveness of sins, and of petition for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom and of a Christian Society in America.

Likewise, in 1789, after the conclusion of the War of the Revolution, only a year after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and shortly after his election as our Nation’s first President, did George Washington issue the first Presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamationii, stating, in part:

    I recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these united States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

    And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

By the beginning of the 19th Century, it had become customary to set aside the last Thursday of November for the observance of Thanksgiving, and for the first time it was observed in all states on this day in 1863, following the proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, who had been urged to officially make Thanksgiving a national holiday and to fix a permanent date for its observance. In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt slightly changed this permanent date to the fourth Thursday of November, reasoning that this would provide an extra week of transition into the season of Advent and for the preparations of Americans for Christmas – and would prove a boon to the national economy. Given the relationship of Thanksgiving to Religious Liberty, and given the Christian’s duty of gratitude, many Christians feel that it is appropriate to include Thanksgiving, even though it is a civic and not a religious holiday, in the worship schedule of the Church Calendar, as if it were a Festival of the the Church.

So, as we are finishing our preparations for Thanksgiving this year, and as we go about our Thanksgiving celebrations in the home, church, and the community, let us be grateful for the many temporal blessings which God has showered upon our Nation, chief among which is the Freedom of Religion itself, but let us also be especially grateful for those eternal blessings which God, in His Grace and Mercy, bestows upon all those who believe – for those eternal blessings of forgiveness of sin, spiritual life and eternal salvation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mr. Douglas Lindee, Jr.
Communications Director
Constitution Party of Wisconsin

The Constitution Party of Wisconsin (CPoW) values and appreciates your continued support.

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    Above all, please keep our Party, State and Nation in your prayers! Our State is now led by liberal progressives, who will very likely renew their destructive efforts to morally and financially bankrupt our State, and our Nation appears to be at a cross-roads. The division is stark. And, it seems, the division is well-founded and necessary. Pray for wisdom and integrity among our representatives in legislative and executive positions, and for the leaders of the Constitution Party of Wisconsin as we seek to broaden the dispersal and acceptance of our ideas, to pursue party growth and influence, and to engage our society with the only Truth that leads to unity and liberty.

ENDNOTES:

    i. The full text of the first Congressional Thanksgiving Day Proclamation reads as follows:

      Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased Him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of His common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that He hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

      It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these united States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please Him graciously to afford His blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these united States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please Him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

      And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

      This Proclamation was Issued by the Continental Congress during the War of the Revolution, November 1, 1777 – the day after news reached them of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a triumph which turned the tide of the War. It was authored by Mr. Samuel Adams, future Governor of Massachusetts, and cousin of future President of the United States, Mr. John Adams.

    ii. The full text of the first Presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation reads as follows:

      Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

      Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”:

      Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these united States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

      And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

      Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, AD 1789

      President George Washington