In September 1789, shortly before Congress adjourned, a representative moved that the president be asked to recommend a day of thanksgiving and prayer in gratitude for God's favors, especially for the opportunity of establishing a new Constitution for the safety and happiness of the people. Even then Congress had its share of nay-sayers, however. One South Carolinian rose to object to this "mimicking of European customs," while a Virginian suggested that the Constitution prove itself for a while before becoming the object of national thanksgiving. But the motion prevailed and the day became one of several national days of thanksgiving that eventually developed into the annual feast the nation observes tomorrow.
As things turned out, the Constitution was worth celebrating. It has endured, and the nation has prospered. This year, of course, prosperity is elusive, and many American families will gather tomorrow under the shadow of lay-offs or with a gnawing fear of the desperation that might lie beyond the last unemployment compensation check.
But if the long history of this country's days of Thanksgiving are any guide, from the early wilderness celebrations of the Pilgrims and Puritans to our contemporary days of feasting and football, Americans will once again take strength from the opportunity to pause and take stock. Like the nation itself, Thanksgiving -- and our need for it -- endures through good times and bad.