To consider, this Thanksgiving | Opinion

It’s likely no one looking back upon 2020 at some future date will regard it as their favorite year. Sure, there were some high points like the DOW breaking 30,000, the New York Mets getting new ownership and the development—in record time—of not one but several promising vaccines for COVID-19. Generally, though, it’s been the pits. People have spent too much time locked inside their homes and out of their jobs and, in the words of Jim Morrison, feel that “the future is uncertain and the end is always near.”

What do we have to look forward to in this week usually set aside for giving thanks? Well, the nation is still here, intact and moving down a different path than the one chosen four years ago. Nearly 150 million cast ballots in the last election—a record—yet the outcome hinged on less than 500,000 votes spread out across just a few states. The divisions that seemed to split us apart, and which did not start with Trump, are very much still with us.

Hate is met by hate. The calls for us to come together? Rejected by those who demand not justice but retribution for the indignities believed to have been suffered at the hands of others—in some cases going back centuries.

To bind up our wounds, to find the pathway forward toward a brighter, more cohesive tomorrow, we should look to the past and to Abraham Lincoln, the providential president who saved the Union with his words.

The Lincoln Memorial is seen ahead of sunrise during Election Day on November 3, 2020 in Washington DC.
Chris McGrath/Getty

In 1863, when it was not at all clear the nation would persevere, Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for a day of Thanksgiving that was oddly prophetic. The wisdom inherent in his remarks then provide important guidance for us now:

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

The great man, in his unique way, reminds us even now of what is profoundly important, to us as people and as citizens of this great republic. Moving forward, as we look outward and inward for the strength to make it through these difficult times, that we focus on our blessings rather than on that which we may lack. For it is in our generosity of mind as well as in spirit that we will find the peace, unity, and freedom we so desperately seek.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written regularly about the American experience for publications including U.S. News and World Report. A veteran of United Press International, he appears regularly as a commentator on One America News. He can be reached by email at and can be followed on Twitter @PeterRoff.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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