Ronald Reagan’s Thanksgiving Day Messages

“We have seen the splendor of our natural resource spread across the tables of the world, and we have seen the splendor of freedom coursing with new vigor through the channels of history.” 

by Scott L. Vanatter

Ronald Reagan believed in America. He believed in America’s promise. He saw the best in his fellow Americans. We, too, believe in America, its promise, and see the best in our fellows.

At the beginning of our republic, President George Washington declared a Day of Thanksgiving his first year in office. In the midst of the sore trials of a massive Civil War, President Lincoln established a regular Day of Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of his predecessors, and while he tackled serious economic and foreign policy challenges, President Reagan delivered a series of eight Thanksgiving Day messages from 1981 through 1988. He repeated previous presidential calls to “set aside” this special day as one of thanksgiving and prayer to God. Further, he challenged the nation to recall and fulfill their responsibility to “give” to those who are less fortunate. There are those who lacked of the “abundance” which America enjoyed — they do not enjoy the abundance which comes as a result of our industry. Many around the world do not enjoy an “abundance of freedom.” America’s example of freedom is one of the lasting legacies we leave for a world — we are the last best hope of mankind. Reagan reminded us to live up to that legacy.

In his first Thanksgiving message as president, Reagan reminded us that we depend on God (and not government) as the ultimate source of our blessings. And that, “Long before there was a government welfare program, this spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character.” (1981)

As he taught over his entire public career, in his second year in office, he said, “I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom.”(1982)

Living in a truly pluralistic society, Reagan reveled, “We rejoice in the fact that, while we have maintained separate institutions of church and state over our 200 years of freedom, we have at the same time preserved reverence for spiritual beliefs.”(1983) In our day some attempt to limit the mention of God, or decry that any proper motivation can be derived from a belief in a Divine Being. This flies in the face of presidential proclamations since the beginning of our Republic.

As important as it is for both public and private acknowledgement of God, Reagan emphasized the private as the fountain from which the public energy flows. “This year we can be especially thankful that real gratitude to God is inscribed, not in proclamations of government, but in the hearts of all our people who come from every race, culture, and creed on the face of the Earth.”(1984)

Reagan always enthroned business and industry as a firm foundation for our economic blessings. Still he also included the artists, musicians, and writers. “We are grateful for our abundant harvests and the productivity of our industries; for the discoveries of our laboratories; for the researches of our scientists and scholars; for the achievements of our artists, musicians, writers, clergy, teachers, physicians, businessmen, engineers, public servants, farmers, mechanics, artisans, and workers of every sort whose honest toil of mind and body in a free land rewards them and their families and enriches our entire Nation.”(1985)

His fondness for our Founding Fathers was focused in the very first, George Washington. “Today let us take heart from the noble example of our first President. . . . And let us ever be mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great.”(1986)

Reagan continually challenged America and Americans to live up to the best of our traditions, and be worthy of the lofty appellation, the Last Best Hope of Mankind. “We have seen the splendor of our natural resource spread across the tables of the world, and we have seen the splendor of freedom coursing with new vigor through the channels of history.” (1987)

Intuitively and from experience, Reagan deeply knew that, “The basic yearning for freedom, peace, and prosperity . . . has always been the spirit of the New World.” (1988)

As we give thanks for these and other blessings, we can remember not only God but those principled leaders of every age, and do our part to uphold their faith in us.

Click here to read a collection of these messages.

See below for excerpts.

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1981 – “Long before there was a government welfare program, this spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character.”

Thanksgiving has become a day when Americans extend a helping hand to the less fortunate. Long before there was a government welfare program, this spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character. Americans have always understood that, truly, one must give in order to receive. This should be a day of giving as well as a day of thanks. . . .

Searching our hearts, we should ask what we can do as individuals to demonstrate our gratitude to God for all He has done. Such reflection can only add to the significance of this precious day of remembrance.

Let us recommit ourselves to that devotion to God and family that has played such an important role in making this a great Nation, and which will be needed as a source of strength if we are to remain a great people.

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1982 — “I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom.”

Two hundred years ago, the Congress of the United States issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation stating that it was “the indispensable duty of all nations” to offer both praise and supplication to God. Above all other nations of the world, America has been especially blessed and should give special thanks. We have bountiful harvests, abundant freedoms, and a strong, compassionate people.

I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom. Our pioneers asked that He would work His will in our daily lives so America would be a land of morality, fairness, and freedom. . . .

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1983 — “We rejoice in the fact that, while we have maintained separate institutions of church and state over our 200 years of freedom, we have at the same time preserved reverence for spiritual beliefs.”

Several days after the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield, the United States [under Lincoln's direction] celebrated its first national Thanksgiving. Every year since then, our Nation has faithfully continued this tradition. . . .

In his remarks at Gettysburg, President Lincoln referred to ours as a Nation “under God.” We rejoice in the fact that, while we have maintained separate institutions of church and state over our 200 years of freedom, we have at the same time preserved reverence for spiritual beliefs.

Although we are a pluralistic society, the giving of thanks can be a true bond of unity among our people. We can unite in gratitude for our individual freedoms and individual faiths. We can be united in gratitude for our Nation’s peace and prosperity when so many in this world have neither.

As was written in the first Thanksgiving Proclamation 120 years ago, “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.” . . .

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1984 — “This year we can be especially thankful that real gratitude to God is inscribed, not in proclamations of government, but in the hearts of all our people who come from every race, culture, and creed on the face of the Earth.”

In the words of the eloquent Seneca tradition of the Iroquois, “give it your thought, that with one mind we may now give thanks to Him our Creator.” . . .

This year we can be especially thankful that real gratitude to God is inscribed, not in proclamations of government, but in the hearts of all our people who come from every race, culture, and creed on the face of the Earth. And as we pause to give thanks for our many gifts, let us be tempered by humility and by compassion for those in need, and let us reaffirm through prayer and action our determination to share our bounty with those less fortunate. . . .

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1985 — “We are grateful for our abundant harvests and the productivity of our industries; for the discoveries of our laboratories; for the researches of our scientists and scholars; for the achievements of our artists, musicians, writers, clergy, teachers, physicians, businessmen, engineers, public servants, farmers, mechanics, artisans, and workers of every sort whose honest toil of mind and body in a free land rewards them and their families and enriches our entire Nation.”

In 1777, during our War of Independence, the Continental Congress set aside a day for thanksgiving and praise for our victory at the battle of Saratoga. It was the first time all the colonies took part in such an event on the same day. The following year, upon news that France was coming to our aid, George Washington at Valley Forge prescribed a special day of thanksgiving. Later, as our first President, he responded to a Congressional petition by declaring Thursday, November 26, 1789, the first Thanksgiving Day of the United States of America. . . .

Abraham Lincoln . . . even in the midst of the civil War . . . enjoined his countrymen to be mindful of their many blessings, cautioning them not to forget “the source from which they come,” that they are “the gracious gifts of the Most High God…” . . .

It is in that spirit that I now invite all Americans to take part again in this beautiful tradition with its roots deep in our history and deeper still in our hearts. . . .

In this season of Thanksgiving we are grateful for our abundant harvests and the productivity of our industries; for the discoveries of our laboratories; for the researches of our scientists and scholars; for the achievements of our artists, musicians, writers, clergy, teachers, physicians, businessmen, engineers, public servants, farmers, mechanics, artisans, and workers of every sort whose honest toil of mind and body in a free land rewards them and their families and enriches our entire Nation. . . .

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1986 — “Today let us take heart from the noble example of our first President. . . . And let us ever be mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great.”

One of the most inspiring portrayals of American history is that of George Washington on his knees in the snow at Valley Forge. That moving image personifies and testifies to our Founders’ dependence upon Divine Providence during the darkest hours of our Revolutionary struggle. It was then — when our mettle as a Nation was tested most severely — that the Sovereign and Judge of nations heard our plea and came to our assistance in the form of aid from France. Thereupon General Washington immediately called for a special day of thanksgiving among his troops. . . .

Eleven years later, President Washington, at the request of the Congress, first proclaimed November 26, 1789, as Thanksgiving Day. . . . President Washington exhorted the people of the United States to observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” so that they might acknowledge “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.” . . .

Today let us take heart from the noble example of our first President. Let us pause from our many activities to give thanks to almighty God for our bountiful harvests and abundant freedoms. . . . And let us ever be mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great. With joy and gratitude in our hearts, let us sing those stirring stanzas:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, in the spirit of George Washington and the Founders, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 27, 1986, as a National Day of Thanksgiving, and I call upon every citizen of this great Nation to gather together in homes and places of worship on that day of thanks to affirm by their prayers and their gratitude the many blessings bestowed upon this land and its people. . . .

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1987 — “We have seen the splendor of our natural resource spread across the tables of the world, and we have seen the splendor of freedom coursing with new vigor through the channels of history.”

Through the decades, through the centuries, in log cabins, country churches, cathedrals, homes, and halls, the American people have paused to give thanks to God, in time of peace and plenty or of danger and distress.

Acknowledgment of dependence on God’s favor was, in fact, our fledgling Nation’s very first order of business. When the delegates to the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774, they overcame discord by uniting in prayer for our country. Despite the differences among them as they began their work, they found common voice in the 35th Psalm, which concludes with a verse of joyous gratitude, “And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.”

This year, of course, our Thanksgiving Day celebration coincides with the Bicentennial of the Constitution. In 1789 the government established by that great charter of freedom, and “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed,” were cited by George Washington in the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation as among “the great and various favors” conferred upon us by the Lord and Ruler of Nations. . . .

We have seen the splendor of our natural resource spread across the tables of the world, and we have seen the splendor of freedom coursing with new vigor through the channels of history. The cause for which we give thanks, for which so many of our citizens through the years have given their lives, has endured 200 years — a blessing to us and a light to all mankind.

~

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1988 — “The basic yearning for freedom, peace, and prosperity . . . has always been the spirit of the New World.”

The celebration of Thanksgiving Day is one of our Nation’s most venerable and cherished traditions. Almost 200 years ago, the first President of these United States, George Washington, issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation under the Constitution and recommended to the American people that they “be devoted 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.” . . .

A century ago, President Grover Cleveland called for “prayers and song of praise” that would render to God the appreciation of the American people for His mercy and for the abundant harvests and rich rewards He had bestowed upon our Nation through the labor of its farmers, shopkeepers, and tradesmen. Both of these Proclamations included something else as well: a recognition of our shortcomings and transgressions and our dependence, in total and in every particular, on the forgiveness and forbearance of the Almighty. . . .

Thanksgiving Day summons every American to pause in the midst of activity, however necessary and valuable, to give simple and humble thanks to God. This gracious gratitude is the “service” of which Washington spoke. . . .

The images of the Thanksgiving celebrations at America’s earliest settlement — of Pilgrim and Iroquois Confederacy assembled in festive friendship – resonate with even greater power in our own day. People from every race, culture, and creed on the face of the Earth now inhabit this land. Their presence illuminates the basic yearning for freedom, peace, and prosperity that has always been the spirit of the New World.

In this year when we as a people enjoy the fruits of economic growth and international cooperation, let us take time both to remember the sacrifices that have made this harvest possible and the needs of those who do not fully partake of its benefits. . . .