Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Michael A. Verdicchio asked:


Ever since the traditional “first Thanksgiving”” celebration in 1621, there have been many subsequent celebrations. I have read that the first recorded Thanksgiving observance was held on June 29, 1671 at Charlestown, Massachusetts by proclamation of the town’s governing council.

During the 1700s, it was common practice for individual colonies to observe days of thanksgiving throughout each year. Those observances were to be a day set aside for prayer and fasting.

Later in the 18th century it was common for each of the states to periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution, or an abundant crop. There was a Thanksgiving Day celebration in December of 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of the British at Saratoga.

But it was President Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, who issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Tuesday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving. Here is that proclamation:

“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 unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to 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 defense have 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, notwithstanding 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 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.”

“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.”

Thanksgiving was proclaimed by every president after Lincoln. But Franklin Roosevelt made it one week earlier, on the 2nd-to-last Thursday in order to make a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, the Congress finally sanctioned Thanksgiving as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.

Perhaps in these days we are living in, it is a good idea to stop and be thankful for what we have. We still have a lot to be thankful for.



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One Response to “Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Great posting! Very well written and researched.

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