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The Renewed Optimism of President Lincoln's Thanksgiving

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The proclamation which established a national day of Thanksgiving was issued during the administration of President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863.

It was a perilous time for our country, torn apart by a devastating Civil War. It is tempting to draw comparisons between then and now. Our country has been torn apart by conflicting political and religious ideologies. We are in the midst of a recession, which may turn into a depression, dividing us further into those who have a roof over their heads and those who do not. We are engaged in wars on two fronts; Iraq and Afghanistan. The dual threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism know no geographic boundaries.

And yet, as in Lincoln's time, we must give thanks. The proclamation issued by Lincoln (written by his Secretary of State William Seward) begins with the words,"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies." What optimism!

He continues in that vein, "In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and 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..."

In asking for a day of Thanksgiving, Lincoln "commends to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strive in which are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

Our prayers and wishes for this Thanksgiving are not very different. We ask that the wounds of the families who have lost loved ones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be healed, that those who live in fear of losing their homes or their jobs, find solace, and that this historic election whose rallying cry was, "Yes, we can!" will enable us to find "peace, harmony, tranquility and union."

Lincoln reminds us that that there is always cause to give thanks, regardless of the times in which we live. Thanks for love, friendship, and renewed optimism.

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Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.