Thursday, November 24, 2011

Making Thanksgiving official

In the language of the times, and in testimony whereof, President Abraham Lincoln had hereunto set his "hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed" to the below document, "done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three":

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. ... 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."

Perhaps the American most responsible for the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it is Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor and, interestingly enough, author of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb." She had tirelessly promoted the notion for some 15 years but her letters to previous presidents had fallen on deaf ears. To Lincoln she wrote:
"[T]he purpose of this letter is to entreat [you] to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government ... thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured."
Typical for the times, her English was grandly verbose, but it worked. Lincoln, sensing an opportunity to promote national unity during wartime (and buoyed by Lee's defeat at Gettysburg), immediately warmed to Mrs. Hale's idea and issued a proclamation shortly after his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, penned the words.

No comments:

Post a Comment