On this day, October 3, in 1863
President Abraham Lincoln Proclaimed Thanksgiving An Official Holiday
The idea of having a Thanksgiving holiday actually goes back to President George Washington. In 1789 Washington was just beginning his first term as president. The nation was also just beginning its first year of having a president.
With the dramatic changes that had come about because of the recent revolt against Great Britain, a war that the colonies had won, George Washington felt it would be good if the country celebrated a day of prayer and giving thanks? Congress agreed, but it was not to be an annual national holiday.
In 1863, the United States was embroiled in an awful civil war. For President Abraham Lincoln, the battle at Gettysburg was a turning point. The shear number of casualties and loss caused the nation to pause, and Lincoln to reflect on the impact of the war on the country. The battle was a win for the Union. From that point forward, Union forces tended to hold the upper hand.
Abraham Lincoln felt it was appropriate at that time to thank the Union Army and God for turning things in the direction he wanted things to go. As he had done before, and as other presidents had done, President Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanks and gratitude for the Union army’s victory. This was the summer of 1863.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday thanks in large part to Sarah Josepha Hale, author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” An accomplished author and magazine editor, Ms. Hale had long advocated for a national day of thanks. In the days of the Civil War, she believed a Thanksgiving holiday would unite the people on both sides of the conflict.
Sarah Josepha Hale had written letters to the president before. After Lincoln had proclaimed a day of giving thanks following the Battle Of Gettysburg, Hale again wrote to President Lincoln and to Secretary of State William Seward urging them to make Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated every year.
On October 3, 1863 Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
There is much talk today about how divided the nation is. The president we have today is opposite in character to Lincoln. Whereas Lincoln strove to unify the country, today’s president thrives on pulling us apart.
Next month there will be a general election. Former Vice President Joe Biden, currently running for the presidency, spoke eloquently at Gettysburg recently. At the place where Lincoln delivered his most popular address. Referring to the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln, Biden pleaded with the American people to stop the hatred that has been fostered by current leaders. He pleaded with Americans to get together as one nation.
It would be a fitting tribute to Abraham Lincoln and to Sarah Josepha Hale if, on election day, Americans voted against the hatred and vitriol that has caused so much division in this country. I think it would honor Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Josepha Hale if Americans voted for healing and unity.