President Abraham Lincoln’s powerful Thanksgiving proclamation, issued amid the carnage of the Civil War, gave the holiday its statement of purpose.

It is "to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next," the president said on Oct. 3, 1863, "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

The wartime proclamation offers a remarkable testament to the power of gratitude not in times of ease and plenty — but in times of struggle, want and fear.

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"The spiritual masters of the Christian tradition call gratitude 'the rarest flower in the garden of virtues,’" Fr. Jeffrey Kirby of South Carolina told Fox News Digital. 

"Gratitude is good in every season, but it takes a particular shape and depth in times of struggle and suffering."

Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Painting by J.L.G. Ferris)

Gratitude, it turns out, is the gift of hope we give ourselves when life is hard, not easy. 

The American precedent to celebrate gratitude in times of hardship was set by the Pilgrims. 

The first Thanksgiving of 1621 came after a year in which half their members died of exposure, disease and starvation.

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Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving proclamation during one of the lowest points in American history: It came amid a nation divided, three months to the day from the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, the deadliest encounter in American military history

Despite "the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield," Lincoln mustered the faith to list all the reasons God had "shed his grace on thee," the American people.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship," said Lincoln. 

The Pilgrims land in Plymouth

Landing of the Mayflower pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1620. Illustration by Howard Pyle, 1882, "Howard Pyle's Book of the American Spirit." Artist Howard Pyle. The Pilgrims first set foot in Plymouth on Dec. 16, 1620.? (Culture Club/Bridgeman via Getty Images)

"The axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore … Population has steadily increased." 

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"It's critical that in times of bounty we have faith in God and recognize that He is the true source of our blessings," Rabbi Mott Segilson of Chabad.org in New York City told Fox News Digital.

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God."

"And, similarly, in difficult times, we recognize the blessings that we do have in our lives, and are grateful and thankful for them, and for all the blessings that are to come."

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Lincoln pointed directly to the source of those blessings amid the horror of war.

"No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things," he said. 

Cannon at Gettysburg

Dawn over the Gettysburg battlefield, cannon standing guard. "It takes humility to thank God because it includes our reliance on the Almighty." (iStock)

"They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."

The timing of Lincoln’s statement, just six weeks before he memorialized the tragedy of the Civil War with the Gettysburg Address, helps prove the healing power of gratitude in our darkest hours.

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"Gratitude is an indicator of the condition of the soul of our country," Pastor Jesse Bradley of Auburn, Washington told Fox News Digital. 

"It takes humility to thank God," said Bradley, "because it includes our reliance on the Almighty."

For more Lifestyle articles, visit foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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