In 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the fourth Thursday of November as an official national day of Thanksgiving. While there had been sporadic national and state occurrences of such days since George Washington proposed the first one, it was not yearly event and there was no agreed-upon day. Thankfully, President Lincoln heeded a letter written to him by Sarah Joseph Hale, a female magazine editor, urging him to establish a day of Thanksgiving as a means to help unify the nation. He established the holiday. While not all states celebrated the holiday during the war, it eventually became a day on which every state in the nation paused to express gratitude for the many blessings received.
I have included some of the text from President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation below. Even though the Civil War was raging on at the time, these words in 1863 helped the suffering citizens to recognize that all of the many freedoms and bounty and opportunity provided in our country were still something for which to be profoundly grateful. While not perfect, they knew this exceptional country was worth the hardship they endured to reach it and to preserve it.
I believe President Lincoln’s words from 155 years ago still have meaning today. Has this been an easy year for all of us? Of course not. But it could be so much worse – and was in our nation’s past. Perhaps the words below will encourage us to pause and reflect on the many good things we do have.
By the President of the United States
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God….
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, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
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