posted at 8:01 am on November 24, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
On behalf of our entire staff at Hot Air as well as the rest of our Townhall Media Group colleagues, may our readers have a happy and joyous Thanksgiving holiday. Most of you will spend the day with family and/or friends; some of you will spend this day as you do others — serving our nation far from home, or working in our communities to provide critical services that never have a day off. Our prayers will be with all of those who for one reason or another cannot celebrate the holiday as wished.
This annual observance explicitly calls us to consider our many blessings and to give thanks for them to our Creator. What, though, is the purpose of this exercise? Is it merely to count up our material wealth and allow it to provide us comfort and complacency? Theodore Roosevelt addressed this question with typical directness and forcefulness in his final Thanksgiving proclamation in 1908. Issued on Halloween just prior to the election that would put William Howard Taft in the White House, Roosevelt warned Americans that material wealth had to be matched by moral and spiritual growth, and a determination to fight evil. That, Roosevelt declared, had to be America’s mission in the world:
Once again the season is at hand when, according to the ancient custom of our people, it becomes the duty of the President to appoint a day of prayer and of thanksgiving to God.
Year by year this Nation grows in strength and worldly power. During the century and a quarter that has elapsed since our entry into the circle of independent peoples we have grown and prospered in material things to a degree never known before, and not now known in any other country. The thirteen colonies which straggled along the seacoast of the Atlantic and were hemmed-in but a few miles west of tidewater by the Indian haunted wilderness, have been transformed into the mightiest republic which the world has ever seen. Its domains stretch across the continent from one to the other of the two greatest oceans, and it exercises dominion alike in the arctic and tropic realms. The growth in wealth and population has surpassed even the growth in territory. Nowhere else in the world is the average of individual comfort and material well-being as high as in our fortunate land.
For the very reason that in material well-being we have thus abounded, we owe it to the Almighty to show equal progress in moral and spiritual things. With a nation, as with the individuals who make up a nation, material well-being is an indispensable foundation. But the foundation avails nothing by itself. That life is wasted, and worse than wasted, which is spent in piling, heap upon heap, those things which minister merely to the pleasure of the body and to the power that rests only on wealth. Upon material well-being as a foundation must be raised the structure of the lofty life of the spirit, if this Nation is properly to fulfil its great mission and to accomplish all that we so ardently hope and desire. The things of the body are good; the things of the intellect better; the best of all are the things of the soul; for, in the nation as in the individual, in the long run it is character that counts. Let us, therefore, as a people set our faces resolutely against evil, and with broad charity, with kindliness and good-will toward all men, but with unflinching determination to smite down wrong, strive with all the strength that is given us for righteousness in public and in private life.
Now, Therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do set apart Thursday, the 26th day of November, next, as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day I recommend that the people shall cease from their daily work, and, in their homes or in their churches, meet devoutly to thank the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received in the past, and to pray that they may be given the strength so to order their lives as to deserve a continuation of these blessings in the future.
In Witness 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 thirty-first day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eight, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and thirty-third.
Roosevelt’s declaration is wise indeed. We should take this time to enjoy our blessings and give thanks for them, but also to contemplate how we can put them to use in the service of the Lord, and to extend the reach of true caritas.