As we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, we should set aside time to recognize the higher purpose for which we gather together around the dinner table. More than food, family, or football, Thanksgiving is about acknowledging the duty we have as citizens to honor God for the blessings He has mercifully bestowed upon us and our nation.
In the first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, President George Washington reminds us 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.”
Gratitude, according to Washington, is a central republican virtue. In giving gratitude such an esteemed place, Washington harks back to Cicero, who wrote that “being and appearing grateful . . . is not only the greatest, but is also the parent of all the other virtues.” In order to govern ourselves, we must first recognize the authority of the One who governs us. We must understand our place in the cosmos; that we are a little lower than the angels but higher than the beasts of the field. Because we have been granted the gift of reason by our Creator, we are duty bound to worship Him.
For Washington our regime, based on the twin pillars of “civil and religious liberty,” owes all its success to “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Gratitude to the Creator, from whom all blessings flow, is the ground of our rights. It is a duty that we must carry out prior to claiming the benefits of rights for ourselves. Rights, claims that others owe to us, flow from the duties we owe to our fellow human beings and ultimately to God. If we are not properly fulfilling our duties, we cannot expect others to fulfill theirs toward us.
We honor the Most High God who has given us so much for reasons known only to Him. In turn, as Washington recognized, our government should mirror God’s example “by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.” Government must not violate the rights of the people and must provide for their safety and happiness, a typology that points to the perfect and eternal government in the Kingdom of Heaven under God’s sovereign authority.
Gratitude demands that we use our undeserved blessings for the benefit of the citizens of earthly nations. From the Book of Genesis to the establishment of New Jerusalem as John outlined in the Book of Revelation, blessings flow to individuals, tribes, and nations. The concept of nations—both biblical and modern—and therefore sovereignty is an inference from the blessings God bestows on man.
This sacred act should engender a deep and abiding humility in all of us. It should function as a brake on our more selfish ambitions and encourage us to follow the laws of nature and nature’s God. Gratitude acts as a stumbling block for those who would twist and warp God’s blessings for their own selfish ends, thereby desecrating God’s holy name. An overweening administrative state that purports to rule every facet of our lives without our consent is therefore an affront to God’s sovereign authority as Washington understood it.
A concern for gratitude and its connection to securing the common good of the regime has returned in the age of Trump. This is necessary at a time where rights displace duties and a radical autonomy unconnected to anything higher than untutored human will is lauded as the pinnacle of human existence. Our increasingly liquid society, where everything is changeable and therefore unstable, is in desperate need of Washington’s lessons.
Throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump has reminded Americans that the ground of their rights is in the Creator of all things. He ran for president because he wanted to “give back to this country which has been so good to me.” The good he received from the people of our nation finds its source in God. “In America,” he has said, “we don’t worship government—we worship God.” “This is America’s heritage, a country that never forgets that we are all—all, every one of us—made by the same God in Heaven.”
Trump’s public lowering of himself—a man known for his bombast and brashness—is an example of the equal duty all citizens have to humble ourselves before our Creator and thank Him for his blessings. For as the Gospel of Matthew proclaims, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Though false religions may teach we are gods unto ourselves and the good life means following wayward feelings emanating from the depths of our own sick hearts, Trump’s public theology teaches that only God is supreme, that He is our only star and compass. Gratitude for our Creator is therefore the cornerstone of any earthly blessings we may receive.
As Washington before him, Trump connects God’s blessings with the duty that government must be bound by law and secure the common good of all who fall under its auspices. He has stated his intent to secure “the common good,” which is attained through an adherence to “our beloved Constitution” and the “founding principle of sovereignty” that gives it legitimacy. As Trump has maintained, “Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States.”
As God instituted a law for His own people, so must we institute and follow the law. Without the law, we are adrift on rough seas without any way to find the safety of the shore.
This is accomplished through “immigration enforcement and border security,” “fair trade” that benefits Americans, and a foreign policy based on securing our own interests and does “not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” If we are successful in this endeavor, then we “will pass on the blessings of liberty, and the glories of God, to our children.”
From the first days-long feast between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621, Thanksgiving has been about acknowledging the gratitude we owe “to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” as Lincoln said in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation.
This Thanksgiving, we should take time with our loved ones to give thanks for our blessings and ask God to bless future generations as he has blessed our own.