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Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Former Blogger Chris Emami on November 28, 2013

In honor of today being Thanksgiving, I am posting a press release that has been sitting around for quite a while:

Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s  national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration,  President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on  November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for  a local day of thanksgiving.

 Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln  on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving  made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed  that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in  our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States;  it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become  permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different  times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln  responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who  ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that  she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the  editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. George Washington was the first president  to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789,  exactly 74 years before Lincoln’s.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day  of Thanksgiving and Praise.” According to an April 1, 1864, letter from  John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document  was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original  was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member  Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on  his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A 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 defence, 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 consiousness 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, tranquillity 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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State

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