Abraham Lincoln late in the Civil War (LOC)
York preacher gave fiery Thanksgiving exhortations in 1863
President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November, (the 26th) in 1863.
In York’s Presbyterian Church that day, the fiery Rev. Thomas Street began his sermon quoting the Psalms:
“Know ye that the Lord is God. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Be thankful until Him and bless His name.”
The pastor continued with his preaching:
“We are invited by both the Executive of the United States and of this Commonwealth, to meet in worship and hold this day as one of thanksgiving and praise. It is proper that we should do this. The least we can do is to show public gratitude to God, for the many mercies he has vouchsafed unto us, and pour out our praise in acknowledgement.”
“We have great cause for this service,” he explained. “We have never had greater cause since the commencement of our national history. As individuals God has kept us from seen and hidden dangers. He has provided us food, and raiment, and shelter. He has preserved us from much sickness and accident. He has kept our homes safe from destruction by the elements and the enemy,” a reference to the June 1863 occupation of York by Jubal Early’s Rebels.
Street continued to list the many blessings for which York’s residents should give thanks:
“He has given us propitious seasons and abundant harvests. He has preserved us from famine and pestilence. And although a fearful war has raged in some parts of our land causing vast destruction and desolation, we have been preserved in quiet; and even though the enemy did invade our town in great numbers and with threatening aspect, we were mercifully delivered from their hands.”
He reminded his listeners about the Army Hospital on Penn Common:
“We have cause for thankfulness too, in the fact there has been and still is with us an infirmary, a shelter, a nursing place for the sick and wounded of the noble men who have fought our country’s battles, and defended her laws.”
Later in the sermon, Street took a detour with a lengthy anti-slavery diatribe that reflected his strong abolitionist leanings:
“I come now to another subject of thanksgiving, more marked than the rest, because, to all thinking people, the Providence of God is made clearer in it. I mean the unmistakable tendency of this conflict to break up and destroy the institution of slavery in this country … .”
He closed by exhorting his parishioners:
“My brethren, be true to the hour in which you live; be true to the character of growing men; be true to the great principles which claim your support; be true to the responsibilities the times lay upon you. So true, so manly, so brave, so unflinching, so patriotic, so Christian, that when you have gone into eternity your children will think proudly of you; will love to recall your memory, and make it their highest boast, that in the war which tried their fathers, you were gloriously loyal, and undoubtedly firm in upholding your country.
“You can leave no better inheritance than that!”[i]
[i] Thomas Street, Sermon Preached in the Presbyterian Church, York, Pa., on the Day of National Thanksgiving, November 26, 1863 (Philadelphia: Henry B. Ashmead, 1863).
Adapted from the book Echoing Still: More Civil War Voices from York County, Pa., by James McClure and Scott Mingus