This Thanksgiving doesn’t feel particularly festive, not after electing a president who lost by more than 2.1 million votes. But let’s put things in perspective with the help of Honest Abe. He had it way tougher than us.
In November 1863, when Lincoln officially decreed the first Thanksgiving Day, we were violently torn asunder by what he called “a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” a war that would claim roughly 700,000 lives. Those deaths – from bullets, disease, suicides, executions, and accidents – constituted two percent of the American population, the equivalent of 6.38 million deaths today. Wrap your heads around that one.
Yet Lincoln still waxed optimistic, giving thanks for “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”
Yes, Americans were dying in droves – the dead of Gettysburg alone exceeded the capacity of a modern ballpark – but Lincoln said there was much to be thankful for, that the strife on our own soil had “not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore….and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
Therefore, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that (our bounties) should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November.”
Mic drop, Abe.