A Thanksgiving Editorial from 1881
A Thanksgiving Editorial from 1881

– November 26, 1881 –

Thanksgiving 1881 came at a strange time in the life of Christian Standard. It was only two months after the death of President James A. Garfield, who was shot twice by Charles A. Guiteau in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. Garfield remained alive, but largely in misery, until his death Sept. 19. (The account of Garfield’s medical treatment, and how it likely contributed to his death, is quite fascinating.)

Garfield, of course, was one of the initial investors in Christian Standard magazine. The first editor of this magazine, Isaac Errett, surely knew Garfield and most likely wrote this editorial. The president’s death is alluded to in the first paragraph.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, sit back and enjoy this editorial from 1881 . . . 137 years ago.

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Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving day has grown into a national observance. Alike in its social, moral and religious influences, such an observance is desirable. The acknowledgement of God and of our dependence on Him as a nation, is no light thing, when the tribute is voluntarily paid and not coerced by the civil authorities. That there is much to call forth gratitude, none will deny. While it is true that our nation has been called to mourn the untimely taking off of her chief magistrate by the hand of an assassin, and the whole land has been filled with a grief that has no parallel in our history, or in the history of any nation,—and this calamity will necessarily give a pensiveness, if not a somberness, to the observance of the day—we are not left without cause of thankfulness even in the thick darkness of this terrible calamity. We have reason for thanksgiving that “the Government still lives;” that the universal sorrow has melted all hearts into one, thus overcoming much of the bitterness of sectional feeling that has so long and disastrously reigned, and speeding a reconciliation of North and South which else had been at best of slow growth, and making possible the revival of a truly national patriotism; that the sympathies of other nations that have been called forth in an unusual way, and to an unusual extent; and especially that England and the United States have been led into a hearty friendliness and sympathy beyond anything known in the past, and which promises gratifying results in the future. The promotion of “peace on earth and good will among men,” even in promise, awakened the angels to songs of joy; surely every step towards its practical realization should cause men to give thanks.

If the fruitfulness of our land has been somewhat less abundant than in former years, it has still been sufficient for our own wants and for a liberal supply of the wants of other nations. Business generally has been prosperous. The national finances have been wisely managed, and the national debt has been reduced. We have been free from the horrors of war, famine, and pestilence. Our country has been a refuge for myriads from other lands, who find here a home and a freedom which they could not find in their native countries. While there have been, in parts of the land, floods and cyclones and drouth, they have not materially interfered with the general prosperity, nor have they been unmixed evils. It is not extravagant to say that no people under the sun have as abundant reason for thankfulness and gladness as the people of the United States.

And now comes the inquiry; “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” Read Deut. Xxvi. Do not be less grateful or less generous than a Jew in this matter of thanksgiving. Think of all the mercies you have received, and then of the needs of others less favored, and consecrate a fair share of your abundance to such calls of mercy as are most imperative. If you have the poor and the unfortunate within your reach, make it a day of gladness to them. Teach your children to think of them, and visit them, and minister to their relief. Do not forget the dependent family of the preacher who is absent from home proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ to bankrupt sinners. Remember that you largely own the blessings of the high civilization you enjoy, to Christ and his gospel. Think of the benighted nations of the earth, and do something to carry the gospel to them. And think, too, of the lone disciples out on the Western prairies and in the yet unconquered wildernesses, and do something to send a preacher of the word to those who are almost breaking their hearts with longings for a renewal of lost spiritual privileges. Of thanksgiving, as well as of fasting, it may be said: “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall break forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall bring up the rear. Then shalt thou call, and Jehovah shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger and speaking vanity, and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy darkness be as the noonday. And Jehovah shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drouth, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters fail not” (Isa. lviii. 7-11). As Mrs. Annie A. Preston said in her excellent thanksgiving story a year ago, let there be not only thanks-giving, but thanks-living.

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By the way, the image is by Thomas Nast from a Harper’s Weekly magazine cover in 1881.

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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