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Fall 1998
David Barton - 09/1998

Thanksgiving in America

This month, America will continue a tradition begun centuries ago: the celebration of a Day of Thanksgiving. The origin of this tradition is commonly attributed to the Pilgrims in 1621, even though some Thanksgiving services did occur elsewhere in America as early as 1607. While Thanksgiving celebrations became common in New England, they did not begin to spread southward until the American Revolution, when Congress issued eight separate national Thanksgiving Proclamations.

Then in 1789, following a proclamation issued by President George Washington, America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new Constitution. That same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church, of which President Washington was a member, announced that the first Thursday in November would become its regular day for giving thanks, "unless another day be appointed by the civil authorities." Yet, despite these early national proclamations, official Thanksgiving observances usually occurred only at the State level.

Much of the credit for the adoption of an annual national Thanksgiving Day may be attributed to Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. For thirty years, she promoted the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day, contacting President after President until President Abraham Lincoln responded in 1863 by setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving. Over the next seventy-five years, Presidents followed Lincoln's precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day. Then, in 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.

Lincoln's original 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation came–spiritually speaking–at a pivotal point in his life. During the first week of July of that year, the Battle of Gettysburg occurred, resulting in the loss of some 60,000 American lives. Four months later in November, Lincoln delivered his famous "Gettysburg Address." It was while Lincoln was walking among the thousands of graves there at Gettysburg that he committed his life to Christ. As he explained to a friend:

When I left Springfield [to assume the Presidency] I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.

Following is the 1863 Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation–celebrated shortly after Lincoln committed his life to Christ and celebrated while America was still in the midst of its Civil War. It was this proclamation which eventually led to the establishment of our national Thanksgiving holiday.

Proclamation of Thanksgiving by the President of the United States of America

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of almighty God

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to 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, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have 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 theretofore.

Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they 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 next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we 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 purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Abraham Lincoln

A Biblical and Historical Perspective on the Clinton Scandal

The President, by his own admission, has violated several of the most basic laws undergirding both society and religion: the Ten Commandments. Specifically, the President willfully broke the 7th command (to maintain the sanctity of sex within marriage), the 10th command (forbidding coveting another person), and the 9th command (prohibiting perjury).

Such blatant violations of the Ten Commandments are no small matter. To reject the Ten Commandments is to disdain those laws which were described by John Quincy Adams as the "laws essential to the existence of men in society," by John Adams as the "inviolable precepts in every society" that make it "civilized and free," and by John Witherspoon as "the sum of the moral law."

There can be nothing said in defense of the President. What he has done is wrong. Nevertheless, in an attempt to evade the consequences, the strategy pursued by the supporters and counselors of the President has been twofold: (1) to ask forgiveness and show public contrition, and (2) to degrade the culture by claiming that others also do what the President did–that it's only sex–a private matter.

While seeking forgiveness is commendable, particularly if it is sincere, it never has, and never should, excuse someone from the consequences of his behavior. In fact, 1 Samuel 15:9-31 presents a striking parallel to the current situation. In that account, Saul, the national leader, committed a transgression. When Samuel uncovered and exposed the unrighteous act, Saul offered an apology, declaring, "I have sinned. . . . Now, I beg you, please forgive my sin." Nevertheless, God had Samuel inform Saul that because of his behavior, "The Lord has rejected you as leader." (See the account of a similar but separate incident in 1 Samuel 13:8-14.) Similar lessons may be learned through the stories of Esau, David, Hezekiah, Uzziah, Gehazi, and others. While each committed a wrong and later regretted his behavior, each still had to face the consequences of his own wrong behavior. In short, "I'm sorry" is insufficient to prevent the consequences of a leader's willful, serious, and immoral misbehavior.

And the "everybody else is doing it" defense is wrong for at least two reasons. First, the Bible forcefully declares, on numerous occasions, that each person must face the consequences of and be responsible for his own actions—regardless of what "everybody" else does. (See, for example, Jeremiah 31:27-30). Second, to claim that such behavior is widespread and common undermines the mores of our society. In fact, the proper response should be to condemn the act rather than attempt excuse or justify the act. As explained by John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence:

[H]e is the best friend to American liberty who . . . sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind.

Under this standard, if the President's supporters truly cared about America, rather than excusing immoral behavior, even if done "privately," they would be condemning it. Unfortunately, the President's defenders have done just the opposite, conveying to the public a perception that those who practice marital fidelity are the minority. That Americans actually perceive this to be the moral condition of America is illustrated by a poll earlier released by Family Circle magazine. The results of that survey, questioning respondents on the Ten Commandments, confirmed an interesting image of misperceptions.

For example, while only fourteen percent of the respondents had actually engaged in extramarital relations, amazingly, forty-five percent reported their belief that extramarital relations were common. Why would respondents believe that extramarital relations among that group occurred at a rate nearly three times higher than it actually did? Because they have been consistently pummeled–as a defense by those who engage in extramarital affairs–with the charge that such affairs are commonplace.

Not only do the efforts of the President's supporters weaken the moral standards, they actually perpetuate historical revisionism. That is, in an attempt to excuse the President's immoral behavior, his defenders are asserting that President George Washington also engaged in immoral and illicit sexual relations–a charge that is historically false. (To see a full rebuttal of the accusation, refer to chapter 16 in my book, Original Intent.)

A further point of defense raised by the President's supporters is that this was a private matter and would an average citizen want an investigator looking into his life as the President's has been? The fact of the matter is that the President is not an average citizen, and both the Bible and American history set a more rigorous standard for a leader. For example, James 3:1 warns:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Similarly high standards for leaders are set forth in passages like Titus 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Exodus 18:21-22, etc. Those standards specifically address moral and private conduct and also direct that a leader's life should be held forth as a positive example for others to follow (see, for example, 1 Cor. 11:1). It is understandable that a leader is held to a higher standard than others because he possesses more power and has more opportunity to influence–for good or for bad–many more millions of lives than does the average citizen.

Our Founding Fathers understood this need for a higher moral standard in our leaders, and they specifically advocated investigating the private moral life of a leader. The Biblical reason underlying their logic is found in Luke 6:43-44 and Matthew 7:16-20, in which Jesus reminds us:

Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Very simply, if a tree has bad roots, it will produce bad fruits. Consequently, the "roots" of a public officer are important, for one who produces bad fruit in private life cannot keep from eventually producing it in public life.

Understanding this, Founding Father Elias Boudinot, a President of the Continental Congress, reminded us to "be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers . . . and judge of the tree by its fruits." Other American statesmen made equally succinct declarations. For example:

He who is void of attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections. . . . [P]rivate and public vices are in reality . . . connected. . . . Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men. Samuel Adams
Righteousness alone can exalt [America] as a nation. . . . [R]emember this! And in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. . . . [T]he great pillars of all government . . . [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible. Patrick Henry
As governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. . . . Let men be good and the govern\plain\fs22 ment cannot be bad. . . . But if men be bad, the government be never good. William Penn
[I]f we . . . trifle with the injunctions of morality . . . no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us. . . . [No] government [can] be secure which is not supported by moral habits. Daniel Webster
In selecting men for office . . . look to his character. . . . [I]f the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded. . . . When a citizen gives his [vote] to a man of known immorality . . . he betrays the interest of his country. Noah Webster
Those who wish well to the State ought to choose to places of trust men of inward principle, justified by exemplary [lifestyle]. Is it reasonable to expect wisdom from the ignorant? fidelity from the profligate? assiduity and application to public business from men of a dissipated life? . . . Those, therefore, who pay no regard to religion and sobriety in the persons whom they [elect] are guilty of the greatest absurdity and will soon pay dear for their folly. John Witherspoon

While it is too late for us as voters to apply these lessons to our current President, it is not too late for us to apply these lessons to the present election. Remember to vote–and to vote for God-fearing and moral individuals. As the Bible reminds us in Proverbs 29:2: "When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan."

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

In the midst of the debate surrounding a potential presidential impeachment, the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" has become a focal point. This phrase is found in Article II, Section 4, Par. 1, of the Constitution, and sets forth the reasons for the removal of a President:

The President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Supporters of the President argue that what has been uncovered–thus far–does not amount to "high crimes and misdemeanors" like "treason [and] bribery." While they admit the President's actions to be disgusting and reprehensible, they claim that nevertheless they are not sufficiently serious felonies so as to constitute impeachable offenses.

Those who offer this argument are guilty of two errors: (1) they are ignorant of (or ignore) the clear declarations both of our Founding Fathers who authored this clause and of those who for a century-and-a-half afterwards enforced this clause, and (2) they group words together in the clause which should be kept separate that is, they talk of "high crimes and misdemeanors" as if they are they same thing; they are not.

The clause should be read "high crimes" and "misdemeanors"–two separate categories. No one can logically argue that a "high crime" is the same as a "misdemeanor." What the Founding Fathers did in this clause was to offer a broad scope of impeachable offenses ranging from serious felonies (high crimes) to much lesser categories of misbehavior (misdemeanors).

This is further confirmed by the two specific examples the Founders included in the Constitution: treason and bribery. Treason was a serious capital offense, resulting in execution, while bribery–even though it was considered a moral wrong–was not yet a statutory crime when the Constitution was adopted! Clearly, then, what the Constitution specifies is a wide range of impeachable offenses, from high crimes (such as treason) to misdemeanors (such as bribery–not then illegal).

The definitions of "misdemeanor" confirmed this. For example, Alexander Hamilton and Justice Joseph Story (placed on the Supreme Court by President James Madison) defined a "misdemeanor" as political "malconduct," and Noah Webster (responsible for the copyright and patent protection clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) defined "misdemeanor" as "ill behavior, evil conduct, fault, or mismanagement." Professor John Randolph Tucker (a U.S. Congressman, constitutional law professor, and early president of the American Bar Association) explained in his 1891 Commentaries on the Constitution that "misdemeanor" was "a synonym for misbehavior" and that "[t]he words 'high crimes and misdemeanors' cannot be confined to crimes created and defined by a statute of the United States."

Realizing, then, that the constitutional scope of impeachable offenses ranged from serious felonies down to misbehavior and evil conduct, Joseph Story, in his classic 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution, declared:

The offences to which the power of impeachment has been and is ordinarily applied as a remedy are. . . . what are aptly termed political offences, growing out of personal misconduct, or gross neglect, or usurpation, or habitual disregard of the public interest.

And Professor John Randolph Tucker, in the 1891 Commentaries mentioned earlier, declared:

The process of impeachment is a political proceeding, against the accused as an officer of the government, to protect the government from the present or future incumbency of a man whose conduct has proved him unworthy to fill it. . . . The impeachment power was intended to cleanse the government from the presence of worthless and faithless individuals.

That this had been the intent of the Founding Fathers was irrefutable. For example, James Iredell (an original Supreme Court Justice appointed by President George Washington) succinctly declared:

Every government requires [impeachment]. Every man ought to be amenable for his conduct. . . . It will be not only the means of punishing misconduct but it will prevent misconduct. A man in public office who knows that there is no tribunal to punish him may be ready to deviate from his duty; but if he knows there is a tribunal for that purpose, although he may be a man of no principle, the very terror of punishment will perhaps deter him.

Therefore, in the current raging debate over what constitutes an impeachable offense, do not be misled by those who would define "high crimes" and "misdemeanors" as being the same, and then who raise the bar for impeachment so high that it protects an individual from being accountable for his conduct.

Meet a Friend

Once again, it is a pleasure to highlight an organization that is having a profound impact on our society. The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is getting the Bible back into public schools nationwide. Founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Ridenour, this organization helps public schools set up elective Bible courses by first educating them to the fact that the courses are completely constitutional and then by providing the curriculum for the courses, with the Bible itself being the primary textbook.

According to the NCBCPS, the ultimate goals of these courses, in part, are to "equip the student with a fundamental understanding of the influence of the Bible on history, law, American community life, and culture; give insight into the world views of America's founding fathers and to understand the Biblical influences on their views on human rights; . . . [and] familiarize the student with the Bible so that he or she becomes skillful in its use, such as finding references easily." Currently, fifty-seven districts in twenty-six States have started teaching the Bible as an elective in public schools.

This is a program that is definitely worthwhile! Every individual should consider obtaining information on how to help implement this curriculum in local schools. To contact the NCBCPS, write them at P.O. Box 9743, Greensboro, NC 27429, or call (910) 272-3799.



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