What led to the Proclamation of the American Thanksgiving Holiday? Who were the authors of this great holiday? You may first say it was the Pilgrims, but I am talking about the U.S. Federal Holiday of Thanksgiving. In light of this years heated electoral proceedings and intra-national fighting, I think it is very important that we in fact examine the actual proclamation. You will be surprised and I hope challenged by this document.
The Proclamation of the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday was issued on October 3, 1863. Two key people can be considered the actual co-authors of the American Thanksgiving Holiday. They are President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward. However, there is also one unsung heroine who can be considered the lead facilitator and even possibly the third author of the American Thanksgiving Holiday. Her name is Sarah Josepha Hale. She is often referred to as the Mother of Thanksgiving.
Now the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day dates back to the beginning of our nation. During the war, the Continental Congress issued multiple declarations proclaiming days of thanks. President George Washington appealed for a national day of thanks in 1789 to honor both the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the end of the American Revolutionary War. In a similar fashion, both President John Adams and President James Madison declared thanksgiving proclamations during their terms in office.
And then you have Sarah Josepha Hale. She was born in Newport, New Hampshire on October 24, 1788. Her family celebrated Thanksgiving annually. She matured into a national leader and advocate of women’s education. Sarah helped establish the Troy Female Seminary as well as assisted in the financing of Vassar College. She is the author of the poem Mary Had a Little Lamb. Sarah was one of the founders of the American Ladies Magazine. Later in 1837, she became the editor of Godey’s Lady Book where it became one of the country’s most influential periodicals under her leadership. She remained the editor for over 40 years.
Since 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale continuously campaigned for the creation of a national thanksgiving holiday. As the editor of Godey’s Lady Book, she frequently published articles and editorials on the concept of a national day of thanks. Sarah tirelessly lobbied with federal and state officials to create legislation establishing a national day of thanks, interestingly enough, on the last Thursday of November. Why? Sarah’s goal was to create a national day of remembrance for unifying the country. She wanted to minimize the growing division between the northern and southern American states. In short, she wanted to heal the nation. Through her efforts, by the year 1854 30 U.S. states and territories had a Thanksgiving holiday on their legislative books. Yet the establishment of a national Thanksgiving Day eluded her. During the early years of the Civil War, the holiday was regionally celebrated in the Confederacy and the Union. Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared Thanksgiving Day proclamations in 1861 and 1862 following multiple military victories. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in April 1982 and later in the summer of 1863.
Following Lincoln’s summer proclamation, on September 28, 1863 Sarah Hale wrote letters to both President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward. She implored them to declare once and for all time a national Thanksgiving Holiday. She firmly believed that only the American President had the power to found this celebration as a permanent, national custom and institution. We will never know whether or not Abraham Lincoln had already decided to found the holiday. What we do know is that within 1 week of having received the letter, William Seward, at the behest of Abraham Lincoln, composed Lincoln’s formal proclamation permanently establishing the national observance of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Like Sarah, both Lincoln and Seward hoped this movement would help ‘heal the wounds of the nation’. After over 30 years of devoted campaigning, Sarah Josepha Hale had obtained a national Thanksgiving holiday.
I implore every American citizen to read President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving. While reading this declaration, think on your own life, the last year’s national events, and the sad state of our nation’s temperament. Although we are not undergoing a military civil war, we are wrestling with a war of the minds and moods. I regret to say it, but we have become a people that cannot live with one another when we disagree with one another. How tragic! And so, I challenge you to read the U.S. Thanksgiving Proclamation which herein follows…..
Proclamation of Thanksgiving
By the President of the United States of America:
The year that is drawing towards 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 even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, has not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; 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, nothwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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 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 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 Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State
October 3, 1863