Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Updated October 25, 2021 | Infoplease Staff
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Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Lincoln first proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in October 1863.

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One of the most famous US leaders, President Abraham Lincoln, gave many speeches that have gone down in history. From the Gettysburg Address to his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln had a way with words.

And his speech to commemorate the first Thanksgiving after the Battle of Gettysburg is no different. Not only did this President of the United States of America commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War, but he also set the fourth Thursday of November to be a national day of thanksgiving, leading to the national holiday we know today.

Interestingly, Honest Abe was not the one who wrote this moving speech. It was actually composed by the Secretary of State William Seward, and might not have even come about if it hadn’t been for Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

This incredible woman advocated repeatedly for a thanksgiving holiday to be instituted for decades, and even wrote directly to the White House and President Lincoln.

As such, on a crisp October day, Abraham Lincoln stood and delivered the following address to the nation, declaring the holiday of gratitude and remembrance that we still celebrate to this day!

October 3, 1863: The Thanksgiving Proclamation, Washington, DC

The year that is drawing toward 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 can not 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater 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 defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our 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 battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness 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 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 imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, 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 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

By the President:
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.

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