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Fall 1996
David Barton - 09/1996

Thanksgivings in America

The tradition of Thanksgiving celebrations as a time to focus on God and His blessings has deep roots, dating back almost four centuries (e.g., the thanksgiving services in Virginia at Cape Henry in 1607 and Berkeley Plantation in 1619, the traditional Pilgrim's thanksgiving in 1621, etc.). In the spirit of this tradition, we present one of America's Thanksgiving proclamations: the first national observance of Thanksgiving under the Constitution.

The Congressional Record for September 25, 1789, provides the details. Almost immediately after the approval of the Bill of Rights-including the First Amendment:

"Mr. [Elias] Boudinot said he could not think of letting the congressional session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would 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 signal favors of Almighty God. . . .

Mr. [Roger] Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving on any signal event not only as a laudable one in itself, but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ. . . . This example he thought worthy of a Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentlemen who moved the resolution. . . . The question was now put on the resolution and it was carried in the affirmative."

This approved resolution was delivered to President George Washington who heartily concurred with the request and personally authored the proclamation which follows on the next page.

Proclamation: A National Thanksgiving

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 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 previous to their becoming a nation; 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, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; 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 supplications 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 3d day of October, AD 1789
George Washington

Partial Birth Abortions

Partial-birth abortions became the focus for national debate in late 1995 when Congress enacted a ban on that procedure by a vote of 288 to 139 in the House and 54 to 44 in the Senate. The bill was sent to the President in the spring, and on April 10, 1996, he vetoed the ban. However, the Congress promised a veto override attempt later in the session.

In the interim, pro-abortion advocates appeared on talk shows arguing that there was no such thing as a partial-birth abortion. They paraded forth one medical expert after another asserting that neither in medical training nor medical texts was there any mention of partial-birth abortions. It was alleged, therefore, that this controversy was simply another concoction of the radical right.

This argument was carried into the summer's political conventions. For example, during the platform proceedings at the Republican Convention in San Diego, a medical doctor from Hawaii serving on the platform committee moved to strike the section condemning partial-birth abortions. She challenged, "I need to know, what is a partial-birth abortion? It's not medical terminology with which I'm familiar, nor my colleagues in the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology."

Even though Senator Paul Coverdell (GA) held up a copy of the Senate bill and explained that it contained a definition, the doctor and her medical colleague from Hawaii continued to hold their ground until Dan Lungren, the Attorney General of California, essentially ended the debate. Lungren pointed out to them that a partial-birth abortion was a legal rather than a medical term. He explained:

One of the reasons I rise . . . is prompted by the inquiry. . . . "What is the definition-there is no precise medical definition?" In part, that's true because of the nature of this act. Essentially, it's a legal procedure where the child coming down the birth canal is actually turned by the doctor so the child is no longer coming down head-first but rather feet- first. The reason is, if the doctor did what he or she did with the child's head exposed, it would be murder in every single one of the jurisdictions in the United States. So, it is a medical procedure that is predicated on a legal necessity. If you were to crush the skull and remove the brains' contents after the child had come out of the birth canal, it would be recognized by all as murder.

As the details of this gruesome abortion process were publicized, some who originally voted against the ban altered their positions, including Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY), who explained that, "This is too close to infanticide for me." Another was Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. After originally opposing the ban, in a later column, Cohen explained why he was changing:

I was [originally] led to believe that these late-term abortions were extremely rare and performed only when the life of the mother was in danger or the fetus irreparably deformed. I was wrong. . . . I wrote that "just four one-hundredths of one percent of abortions are performed after 24 weeks" and that "most, if not all, are performed because the fetus is found to be severely damaged or because the life of the mother is clearly in danger." . . . But my Washington Post colleague David Brown looked behind the purported figures and . . . . after interviewing doctors who performed late-term abortions and surveying the literature, Brown-a physician himself-wrote: "These doctors say that while a significant number of their patients have late abortions for medical reasons, many others-perhaps the majority-do not." Brown's findings brought me up short. . . . Late-term abortions once seemed to be the choice of women who, really, had no other choice. The facts now are different. If that's the case, then so should be the law.

Although the public pendulum against this procedure was swinging, nevertheless, when the override vote was taken in September 1996, the President's veto was not defeated. While the House was successful (285 to 137), the Senate fell short with a vote of 58 to 40 (another eight votes-a two-thirds margin-was needed).

During the debate over this issue, Senator Rick Santorum (PA) helped raise over a million dollars to fund television ads to educate the public about these abortions. In association with his efforts, the Child Protection Fund was formed solely to combat this procedure (they may be contacted at 900 Second St. NE, Suite 118, Washington, DC, 20002; Phone, 202-408-5217).

However, despite the veto, this controversial issue is finished politically only if "we the people" allow it to be. Continue to let your leaders know how you feel about this issue, then they will continue to address it.

Outstanding Achievements

Over recent centuries, America has surpassed all other nations in educational, scientific, medical, and other achievements and discoveries. While the cause for such performance in any nation has always been a matter of speculation, earlier generations thought they knew one factor contributing to such successes. For example, signer of the Declaration John Witherspoon observed:

It is certain, I think, that human science and religion have kept company together and greatly assisted each others progress in the world.

Signer of the Declaration Benjamin Rush similarly noted:

I believe that the greatest discoveries of science have been made by Christian philosophers, and that there is the most knowledge in those countries where there is the most Christianity.

A brief survey of history certainly seems to suggest a correlation, for so many beneficial discoveries have come from the hands of confessing Christians. Perhaps this principle linking Christianity and achievement has now been expanded to a new field of endeavors: athletics.

In the recent Centennial Olympic Games, the United States dominated the competition, taking 101 medals - 36 more medals than the closest competitor, despite the fact that America is less populous than many of the competing nations (e.g., China, Russia, India). Does anything suggest a possible spiritual connection between the American Olympians and their achievements? Perhaps, for the July 22, 1996, Sports Illustrated reported that when the American Olympians were asked with whom they would most like to have dinner, the most frequent answer was "Jesus Christ"; and when asked about their favorite book, the answer given most often was "The Bible." At least for the most recent games, Jesus apparently was the choice of champions, and the Bible was the Book of winners!

"Righteousness exalts a nation." Proverbs 14:34
"Happy is that people whose God is the Lord." Psalm 144:15


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