The holiday of Thanksgiving is most often associated with the delicious meal that comes along with a day of family and friends gathered together in late fall. But somewhere between the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie is the true story of Thanksgiving. It is a story of peace amidst conflict and unity during division.

The Civil War was a time of great division in our country’s history. With battle lines drawn and members of the same family fighting brother against brother, our country faced a political divide unlike ever before. In July of 1863, the three-day long Battle of Gettysburg brought about one of the bloodiest battles in the history of our country. The Union held off Confederate advances in what many consider the turning point of the Civil War. Tragically, the Union and Confederate sides suffered an estimated 50,000 casualties. In the battle’s aftermath, the nation was left war-torn and shaken.

In this time of great pain in our country, President Abraham Lincoln turned to our Creator. On October 3, 1863, he issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, stating that “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity…peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere.” Despite our country at war with each other, Americans sustained a sense of harmony that only God could provide.

President Lincoln’s proclamation marked the last Thursday of each November to be set aside as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” The proclamation encouraged Americans to put aside their differences and reaffirm their belief that the United States was a sovereign nation and its citizens were united together under God.

During his Gettysburg Address, just one week before the first official Thanksgiving, President Lincoln reminded the country that the struggle we were currently engaged in was “testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.”

We have endured.

Political division will always exist in our democracy. We will all be reminded of that during the discussions at our families’ tables this week. Yet, in the middle of a civil war, in which thousands died fighting for what they believed, Americans found a way to put aside their political differences and give thanks to the God that gave them all that they had. We endure because in our most difficult times Americans have always looked to the Lord and given thanks.

To this day, Thanksgiving continues to be a time for us to put aside our differences and break bread. It’s a time to thank God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us. Despite differences of political ideology and the evil that manifests as violence and hate, Thanksgiving remains an opportunity for all of us to take a step back and acknowledge how blessed we truly are. At the end of the day, we must remember that what divides us as a country will never outweigh the God that unites us.

From my family to yours, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

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