Follow Washington’s Lead, Give Thanks to God
26 November, 2015 by JERRY NEWCOMBE
As we get ready to celebrate another Thanksgiving, there’s one more thing to be grateful to God for—the U.S. Constitution and the political freedom it has brought. What many people don’t realize is the link between the Pilgrims, authors of our Thanksgiving tradition, and our nation’s founding document.
When the founding fathers sat down in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, they had almost 150 years of constitution-making on American soil to draw from. And devout Christians of earlier generations, who used the biblical concept of covenant as a model, were those who provided the precedents.
One such document was the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut of 1639, which was inspired by a sermon that examined principles of government from the Bible. This covenant, which mentions “the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” was the first complete constitution written on American soil and is the reason that to this day Connecticut is called “the constitution state.”
A covenant is an agreement before God, binding a community together. The Pilgrims, Puritans, and other dedicated Christians engaged in writing about 100 various agreements for self-government, paving the way for the Constitution.
The first of these American covenants was written by the Pilgrims before they even disembarked the Mayflower, a month before they even set foot in Plymouth.
The Pilgrims had a charter from King James, who hated Christian dissenters and was glad they were leaving England, to settle in “the northern parts of Virginia.” But they were blown off course and providentially hindered from sailing south of Cape Cod—at least for the winter.
Because the Mayflower had been blown off course and was under no government’s jurisdiction, Pilgrim leaders heard that some of their hired hands had a mind to strike out on their own and leave the colony before it even started. That would be disastrous.
So before disembarking, the Pilgrims decided to write up an agreement for self-government. It was a biblical type of covenant, calling on God as a witness and committing them all to a common purpose.
The Mayflower Compact says: “In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James . . . Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these present, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid.”
This document signed on November 11, 1620 was a milestone in history and a major step in the process of the creation of America.
In A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill calls the Mayflower Compact “one of the remarkable documents in history.”
Paul Johnson, author of A History of the American People, points out that the Mayflower Compact was “the single most important formative event in early American history, which would ultimately have an important bearing on…the American Republic.”
The great 19th century historian, George Bancroft, writes: “In the cabin of the Mayflower humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of ‘equal laws’ enacted by all the people for ‘the general good.’”
Dr. Donald S. Lutz, a professor of political science at the University of Houston and the author of The Origins of American Constitutionalism, points out that the Bible provided the concept of the covenant. I once interviewed him for the television special, One Nation Under God, hosted by D. James Kennedy.
In reference to the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and early Christian settlers of British North America, Lutz told me: “These poor people came to the New World, they had the wrong technologies, their plows would not work, their houses that they constructed were inappropriate for the weather. All their technology was wrong, except for one technology they brought with them, which was the ability to use covenants to create communities. It was the perfect technology. It was the technology that mattered that allowed them to survive all up and down the coast.”
Lutz speaks in his book of the importance of the “covenants that derive from the biblical tradition” in helping to frame, ultimately. the U.S. Constitution. And he adds, “When one reads the preamble, which begins ‘We the people…,’ it is difficult not to think of ‘We whose names are [underwritten]’ in the Mayflower Compact, the first political covenant in America.”
The Constitution and those, like the Pilgrims, who helped pave the way toward its creation, are blessings to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. Thus endeth the history lesson. Happy Thanksgiving.
Abe Lincoln Thanksgiving 1864:‘It Has Pleased Almighty God to Prolong Our National Life Another Year’
November 26, 2015
President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation on Oct. 20, 1864, setting aside the last Thursday in November as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God.”
By the President of the United States of America
It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.
By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD,
Secretary of State
Follow Washington’s Lead, Give Thanks to God
26 Nov 2015 by Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS 42 )
In the difficult winter of 1777, General George Washington’s army was suffering from bitter cold, a lack of supplies and the obvious superiority of British forces.
Many of his soldiers were in agony from severe frostbite, with feet and legs often frozen until they became black. Mandatory amputation of the injured appendages was widespread, disease was rampant and troop morale was low.
With his men under distress – dying at the rate of twelve per day – and disturbing sights of crimson mixed with snow, General Washington sought divine assistance.
With the weight of the world on his shoulders, he kneeled in the ice at Valley Forge. Hidden away in a grove of trees, his bended knees met the cold, hard ground.
Quaker Isaac Potts was riding his horse in the forest when he came upon Washington in deep conversation with God. It was at that moment when he witnessed the general interceding for his beloved country.
Potts later revealed the experience to his pastor, Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, who then recorded the eyewitness account in his diary.
In detail, Snowden described the account of Potts: “In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, and the cause of the country, of humanity and of the world.”
“Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying,” reported an awestricken Potts.
As American history unfolded and days turned into weeks, it became apparent that God had answered General Washington’s prayer, coming to our young country’s assistance in the form of another defender of liberty – the nation of France.
Emboldened after a Colonial victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October of 1777, the reluctant French formally entered the war against the British, becoming the first country to officially recognize our nation’s declaration of independence.
It was then, on May 6, 1778, after hearing of French intervention, that General Washington called a day of thanksgiving for his beleaguered army, announcing to his troops, “It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of earth, to establish our liberty and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness, and celebrating the important event, which we owe to His divine interposition.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Twelve years after despair led him to kneel in prayer at Valley Forge, newly-elected President Washington officially proclaimed November 26, 1789, as Thanksgiving Day for our new Republic.
He had not forgotten the hopelessness he once felt, the courageous struggles of his men or the answered prayers of an earlier time.
In his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1789, he asked the people of the United States to observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” so that they might acknowledge “with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
He likewise reminded the country that “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.” He specifically assigned the day “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 . . .”
Despite challenging and uncertain times, Washington – like the overwhelming majority of our founding fathers – held strongly to his religious faith, with prayer representing an essential component of his distinguished life.
He had a clear understanding from whence his strength and hope arose.
This week, let us learn from the faithfulness of our first President by giving thanks to an almighty God for his continued blessings of liberty.
Let us also pray for continued guidance and assistance in our worldly endeavors, being mindful of the great religious faith that has been with us and kept us from the very beginning.
Moreover, let us thank God for our families, friends and neighbors.
But perhaps more importantly, let us recall that invaluable lesson imparted by the father of our country.
In the most troubling of times, when it seems despair has triumphed over hope and darkness has smothered the soul beyond salvation, a heavenly answer is always waiting to be found.
Whenever bended knees meet the cold, hard ground.