Madison's 1814 proclamation mentioned “voluntarily offering” thanks, confession of sins and transgressions, and “strengthening” vows of repentance.
By contrast, Obama's 2011 proclamation mentioned not his own religious sentiments but instead quotes the proclamations of Washington and Lincoln on the subject.
It referred to the Pilgrims in passing but also gratitude to “all American Indians and Alaska Natives” — as if the proclamation were written by a Census Bureau functionary rather than a presidential speechwriter.
Presidential proclamations have the force of law but often aren't enforceable. A scholar for the American Presidency Project notes that President Gerald Ford used a proclamation to pardon Richard Nixon. While executive orders are aimed at those inside government, proclamations are generally targeted at the rest of us.
Before one Thanksgiving, Washington targeted God, beseeching Him to “pardon our national and other transgressions” and bring favor on all rulers and nations — “especially such as have shewn kindness to us.”
We beseech our readers to enjoy the day, to savor its food and its football. But don't forget the wishbone of offering thanks for our many blessings and our prayers for the nation's leaders.
This is adapted from an editorial written last year by Opinion Editor J.E. McReynolds.