Abraham Lincoln issued three Thanksgiving Proclamations during the Civil War. These proclamations urged days of thanksgiving and prayer in a manner that had long since been tradition in New England–a tradition that had gradually spread to other parts of the country.
The first was issued on April 10, 1862 in light of “signal victories to the land and naval forces engaged in suppressing an internal rebellion, and at the same time to avert from our country the dangers of foreign intervention and invasion.” The President urged all citizens,
…that at their next weekly assemblages in their accustomed places of public worship which shall occur after notice of this proclamation shall be have been received they especially acknowledge and render thanks to our Heavenly Fathers for these inestimable blessings, that they then and there implore spiritual consolation in behalf of all who have been brought into affliction by the casualties and calamities of sedition and civil war, and that they reverently invoke the divine guidance for our national counsels, to the end that they may speedily result in the restoration of peace, harmony, and unity throughout our borders and hasten the establishment of fraternal relations among all the countries of the earth.
Lincoln’s second Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in recognition of the Union victory at Gettysburg in July 1863. He asked that Thursday, August 9, 1863 be set aside, “…to be observed as a day for national thanksgiving, praise, and prayer…”
Two and a half months later, prompted by long campaigning on the part of Sarah Josepha Hale (the influential editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book), Lincoln issued a proclamation (written by Secretary of State William Seward) for a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November. Subsequent presidents would continue to issue annual proclamations setting aside a national day of Thanksgiving in November. Congress officially established the observance as a national holiday, fixed on the fourth Thursday of November, in 1941.
Lincoln’s October 3, 1863 proclamation read, in part,
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….
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and 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.
To learn more about the origins and evolution of Thanksgiving, visit our website.