Happy Thanksgiving. I arrived in Philadelphia from Washington yesterday in the mid-afternoon, and spent this Thanksgiving morning enjoying a solitary walk around a mostly deserted Center City, Philadelphia, before heading across the Delaware to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in New Jersey with family.
Richard Samuelson reflects on the establishment of a “National Thanksgiving,” and how it is that such a thing exists in a nation where we often pretend that our disinterest in establishing a national religion necessarily means that no theological imperatives are to be allowed in public life:
Consider President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. He begins with the universal “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.” But then he stops, as if he knew some might ask why the President is involved. Washington goes on, “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 a form of government for their safety and happiness.’” Congress asked Washington to proclaim the day. An interesting request. Congress did not pass a law proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving. Such an act may, according to some constructions of the Constitution, have crossed over into an establishment of religion. Instead, they have merely asked the President to “recommend” such an observance to the people.
It was a beautiful morning walk, but downright wintry in temperature—the most frigid Thanksgiving I can remember.