Thanksgiving Reveals the God George Washington and Abraham Lincoln Believed In
What did George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believe about God? I know that many try to paint them as deists or as modern-day evangelicals, but really both men were pretty tight-lipped about their personal beliefs for most of their lives. As much as I would like to be convinced that they were "born again believers" as I would define it, I must confess that the finer points of their theology (as in a conversion experience) remain a mystery.
However, both men did give us a very descriptive outline of some of their beliefs in their personal and official papers. Their Thanksgiving Day Proclamations outline for us a few points in their theology that meant a lot to them, and these truths serve us well today.
1. They believed in divine providence.
Providence is just an old-fashioned word meaning "the protective care of God." Washington and Lincoln in their later years were not deists. Deism is the idea that God is the creator of all, but now He is disconnected from the universe. He has set up all the laws of nature, but now is letting nature run its own course without divine interference.
It is clear from Washington's October 3rd, 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation that he rejected deism: "By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation. Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God..." Later in the same article he writes "that we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and for the favorable interpositions of his Providence."
Lincoln, at the end of his October 20, 1864 Thanksgiving Proclamation, stated: "Now therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which, I desire to be observed by all my fellow citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land..."
Both men believed fervently that there was somebody "up there" in heaven who was watching over them and running the universe.