We pause to give thanks for Sarah Josepha Hale, the 74-year-old magazine editor who wrote a letter to Abraham 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.”
On October 3, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” According to the April 1, 1864, letter from Lincoln assistant John Nicolay, the proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.
In his 1863 proclamation, President Lincoln recognized that for which we too have to give thanks: “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.”
Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to all our readers.
Drawn from the Proclamation of Thanksgiving at Abraham Lincoln Online. More background in Barbara Maranzani’s “Abraham Lincoln and the ‘mother of Thanksgiving.'”
NOTE: Melanie Kirkpatrick has now given us a comprehensive account of the holiday in Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience (2016).