Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to silence the silent artillery.
In January of 1838, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. His subject was the perpetuation of our political institutions. Recalling America’s founding, Lincoln feared “the scenes of the revolution” had faded. The “silent artillery of time” had done its job. There are however a few ways to undo the damage.
Lincoln’s “silent artillery” was America’s collective amnesia regarding its most formative events. Today, for example, how many recall that, on this date in history – November 19, 1863 – Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the military cemetery ceremony at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania? Might be worth rereading.
It might also be worth watching Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Spielberg is a master storyteller and Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor par excellence. The film focuses on an intense, four-month period of Lincoln’s life at the end of the Civil War in 1865, when the president was trying to pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery.
You can also undo some of the damage by reading Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. Guelzo is a professor of history and director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College. He writes how Lincoln, early in 1865, described the Emancipation Proclamation as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century.” Describing slavery as America’s “one retrograde institution,” Lincoln didn’t underestimate the task before him. The proclamation wiped out $3.5 billion of “investment” in slaves, at a time when the entire wealth of the nation amounted to only $16 billion. “In giving freedom to the slave,” he noted in his second State of the Union message, “we assure freedom to the free.”
Finally, you can silence some of the silent artillery of time by reading aloud George Washington’s Proclamation at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Here it is. Happy Thanksgiving.
[New York, 3 October 1789]</right
By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
Whereas 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 – and 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 signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next 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 – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war – for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted – for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us – and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.