On October 3rd, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation on Thanksgiving establishing the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday, encouraging every American – at home and abroad – to give pause and give thanks.
Thanksgiving had existed before in America. There was the First Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in Massachusetts in 1621, of course, and Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison also issued proclamations encouraging the celebration of Thanksgiving.
It is interesting that during a time as perilous as the height of the Civil War, President Lincoln entrenched this holiday of gratitude and togetherness into the American year.
1863 was a time of divisiveness and uncertainty, and yet people throughout the country could still find things to be thankful for.
Only two months after this proclamation, on December 3rd, 1863, the final symbolic decoration was added to the outside of the Capitol Dome in Washington: a 19-foot tall statue known simply as Freedom.
The freedoms we enjoy today are some of the greatest things we can be thankful for. For many throughout the world, the freedoms we enjoy do not exist for them.
As we gather with friends and family, I hope you will take time to answer this simple question: what are you thankful for this year?
For myself, I am extremely thankful for my family, my friends, and for the opportunity I have to serve you in Washington.
I am thankful for the many pieces of landmark legislation we were able to pass this year, including fully funding our military for next year, providing funds for vital water infrastructure projects, and enacting meaningful change to the G.I. Bill and the Veteran’s Choice Program.
I am also thankful for all of the positive economic news this year: our thriving economy and jobs market are creating more opportunities for people in Alabama and around the country.
With good news there is also bad. The acts of violence we have seen over recent months in Pennsylvania and California demonstrate the amount of evil there is still to combat in this world. The extremely deadly wildfires currently raging in California causes our hearts to ache for all those affected so unexpectedly and so close to the holidays.
But even in these tragedies, there are things to be thankful for. The first responders who risk their lives to help those in need; the medical professionals who provide service to the sick and those in pain; and perhaps the thing for which we as Americans can be most thankful is our interminable spirit to come together as one, help our neighbors, and make the world a better place to live through one small act of kindness at a time.
More personally, I am thankful to be a child of a loving, forgiving, and all present God. I’m also thankful to call Southwest Alabama home.
Of course, I am thankful for my wonderful family; every moment I get to spend with Rebecca, our children, and our grandchildren is a moment I feel truly blessed.
Lastly, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I have again to serve the people of Southwest Alabama over the next Congress.
There is a memorable verse from the book of John: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
One of the truths we can hold firmly to this Thanksgiving is this: we in the United States are richly blessed with life, prosperity, and freedom. Knowing that, we can be very thankful indeed.
From my entire staff, family, and myself, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.