Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving America

What a great and glorious holiday this is--a truly and uniquely American holiday. It is a day for giving thanks. A day devoted to family, to country, and to God. A day of eating turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, dressing, and pumpkin pie. It is a day of parades, football games, and the beginning of the Christmas holiday season.

It is a day of family gatherings. Unfortunately, in too many homes this year, and as in the past 5 years, there will be too many empty seats at the dinner table. I hope everyone listening will join me in praying for our sons and daughters who are in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, in praying for the eternal salvation of those who have died in these costly conflicts, and in praying for the speedy recovery of those who have been wounded. While we cannot hope to fill those empty chairs, we can hope that our prayers and our love and support will help to ease the sorrow at those tables.

Even with the turmoil of the past year and with so many of our sons and daughters in faraway lands, we still have so much for which to be thankful.

We are thankful for the Pilgrims--that courageous group of men and women who, in 1621, left their homes, crossed a mighty ocean, and settled in a strange, unknown wilderness so they could go to church so they could worship God as they pleased.

After months of privation, suffering, hunger, sickness and death, these men and women had a great feast to thank God for being good to them. Think about it. With all the brutal hardships they had endured, with all the death and suffering they endured, they took time to have a great feast to thank Almighty God for being good to them. In the process, they gave us our first Thanksgiving.

We are thankful for the heritage of liberty bequeathed to us by our ancestors. We are thankful for the wisdom and the foresight of our Founding Fathers who bestowed to us a form of government unique in history, with its three strong pillars of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each balanced and checked against one another.

In fact, Mr. President, that is the very point I want to emphasize. The very first national observance of Thanksgiving, which came in 1789, was to thank Almighty God for His role in creating our great country, and His assistance in the forming of our Constitution.

This happened when, in the very first Congress in 1789, Representative Elias Boudinot of New Jersey moved that a day of thanksgiving be held to thank God for giving the American people the opportunity to create a Constitution to preserve their newly won freedoms.

The resolution, as approved by both Houses of the Congress, requested that a ``joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the president of the United States, to request that he recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving.''

On September 26, 1789, the first Senate agreed to the House resolution, and a few days later a joint congressional committee delivered to President Washington a resolution ``desiring the president of the United States to recommend a day of general thanksgiving.''

Within a few days, on October 3, President Washington issued the first national thanksgiving proclamation. Our first and perhaps our greatest President proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789, to be a day of national thanksgiving.

That proclamation is a fascinating and informative document. It begins by proclaiming that, ``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 implore His protection and favor.''

The Father of our country left no doubt about his belief that our Nation was not simply the creation of mere mortals but was, in fact, guided by a Divine Hand. As if to emphasize this point, his proclamation went on to praise ``that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.'' He exhorted the people of his young Republic to express their gratitude to Almighty God for his protection of them through the Revolutionary War. He wrote: ``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 previous to their becoming a nation.''

That was George Washington. That was the basis of our first national Thanksgiving.

But he was not through. This was a Thanksgiving proclamation, so he proceeded to give thanks. He asked the American people to be thankful to Almighty God for ``the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.''

And he asked the American people to be thankful ``for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted.''

I hope everyone caught that. President Washington was thanking the Good Lord for the Constitution that created the American Government.

At the request of our first President, citizens throughout the land assembled in churches on November 26, 1789, and thanked God for their government and asked Him for His Guidance in the years ahead. As for President Washington, he spent the day worshiping at an Episcopal church in Manhattan.

As you celebrate this Thanksgiving, enjoy your families. Enjoy your Thanksgiving feasts. Enjoy your football games and your parades.

But like President Washington, you might want to think about attending church on this great and glorious day and give thanks for our many blessings. Like President Washington, you may want to thank God for watching over the United States and for His assistance in the creation of our Constitution, our Nation's most basic and sacred document, which has guided and protected our country for more than 200 years, through world wars, great depressions, and bitter, divisive elections.

Senator Robert Byrd - November 16, 2006

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