At Church last week, my Sunday School teacher read a remarkable quotation from Abraham Lincoln about Thanksgiving. It got me wondering about the history of the holiday. Here’s what I found:
On Sept 28, 1863, a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln urging him to revive and unify Thanksgiving celebrations by making it a nationally recognized holiday to be celebrated on a fixed day throughout the country. Less than a week after Hale’s letter was written, President Lincoln made a proclamation that established Thanksgiving as a national observance. It was exactly three months after the Battle of Gettysburg. With the country in the midst of war, the President listed blessings the country enjoyed. Then he called for gratitude, acknowledgement of past mistakes and sins, and remembrance of God and the unfortunate. Pretty amazing:
“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, … 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 theater of military conflict…
“No human counsel hath devised … 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 … 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 … 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…”
Amen, Brother Lincoln.
You can read the entire proclamation here.