Out of a profoundly grateful heart, President Lincoln issued the proclamation for a special day of national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer to be observed on August 6, 1863:
“It has pleased Almighty God to hearken to the supplications and prayers of an afflicted people and to vouchsafe to the Army and the Navy of the United States victories on land and on the sea so signal and so effective as to furnish reasonable grounds for augmented confidence that the Union of these States will be maintained, their Constitution preserved, and their peace and prosperity permanently restored. But these victories have been accorded not without sacrifices of life, limb, health, and liberty, incurred by brave, loyal, and patriotic citizens. Domestic affliction in every part of the country follows in the train of these fearful bereavements. It is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father and the power of His hand equally in these triumphs and in these sorrows.
Now, therefore, be it known that I do set apart Thursday, the 6th day of August next, to be observed as a day for national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, and I invite the people of the United States to assemble on that occasion in their customary places of worship and in the forms approved by their own consciences render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation’s behalf and invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency, and to visit with tender care and consolation throughout the length and breadth of our land all those who, through the vicissitudes of marches, voyages, battles, and sieges, have been brought to suffer in mind, body, or estate, and finally to lead the whole nation through the paths of repentance and submission to the divine will back to the perfect enjoyment of union and fraternal peace.”
That there may be indeed special occasions of thanksgiving in these perplexing and sad days, there must first be national and personal contrition and penitence. We have forgotten God and His gracious hand. Indeed we have been intoxicated with unbroken economic successes, and have become too self-sufficient. God grant that genuine penitence, beginning in the heart of the individual and at the house of God, be the portion of the American people that soon we may have a special thanksgiving day.
Excerpted from Lincoln’s Special Thanksgiving Day, by Dr. V. Raymond Edman, then-president of Wheaton College. Reprinted from The Alliance Weekly, November 21, 1942.