John Adams once said, “Gratitude is always in one’s power.” It is a state of mind and a condition of the heart. It is an attitude that can be chosen by anyone, anywhere, regardless of his or her circumstances.
As Americans, however, we have more reasons than most to be thankful. This Thanksgiving week, let’s remember some of the ways in which “God shed His grace on” our nation, as the old hymn says.
1. We are the heirs of an extraordinary founding generation. We can never lack for inspiration, when we have as our examples the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John and Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and James Madison. These men risked all of their earthly possessions, their reputations and their security – their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor – to make a stand against tyranny and injustice. They were the ultimate underdogs. And having won a revolution, they invested the wisdom they had gained from study and experience into crafting a system of government that offered them no special privileges or preferences, but instead handed the reins of power back to the people.
2. We are citizens of the only nation in the world built upon the idea of liberty. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously recognized this fact. Every aspect of our government’s design is based upon the recognition that our most significant rights come from our Creator – not from government. Our founders understood that the very purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people; to punish wrongdoing and protect its citizens. They recognized that the best government would be one that was constrained to a specific, defined jurisdiction, and beyond that, left people free to pursue virtue and to thrive.
3. We live in a land of opportunity. Because of the founders’ proper understanding of the relationship between citizens and their government, the U.S. is a land of incredible opportunity. While some shortsighted Americans today may pine for a government that guarantees able-bodied citizens a certain income level or material goods, America doesn’t stoop to that. Rather, our government was designed to promote the particular dignity and virtue that is only found in simple, honest work.Because our country has always been a place where citizens may enjoy the fruits of their own labors – a place where creativity, ingenuity and perseverance are rewarded – it is a place where men and women around the globe long to be.
4. Americans are exceptionally generous. In a story for the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby said, “Philanthropic giving is a quintessentially American behavior, and always has been. It is also a radiant example of American exceptionalism.” He pointed out that according to the Almanac of American Philanthropy, the U.S. is by far the most generous nation, giving roughly twice as much as Canadians, Spaniards and the Irish when calculated as a percentage of GDP.Yes, we are a land of privileged people, but we are also a people who care for our neighbors well.
5. Self-governance is our birthright. Of all the rights we enjoy as Americans, surely one of the greatest – and one of the most commonly overlooked – is the right to govern ourselves. Voting is the most obvious way we exercise this right, but it is not the only way. We have the right to engage in the processes of our government, from petitioning our local school boards to testifying at our state legislature’s committee hearings. Through the constitutional amendment process in Article V of the Constitution, we can clarify or enhance our founding charter to further protect the rights of the people and to align it more closely with the noble principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
6. The same God who oversaw the creation of America still rules the affairs of men and nations today. We live in a violent, vulgar and divisive age, to be sure. But God is ever faithful to His people and is sovereign over all things. In 1792, President George Washington wrote these words in a letter to John Armstrong: “I am sure that never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”
He was right. Let us remember, and give thanks.