York Town Square

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Lincoln’s Thanksgiving call of 1864 gained cold reception in York, Pa.

Thanksgiving Day announcement from November 22, 1964.

This was the extent of the York Gazette’s Thanksgiving Day notice. The Democratic newspaper opposed Lincoln’s war policies and did not warm up to his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863 and its renewal a year later. Also of interest: Thanksgiving Day application to York, Pa. and the world: Good can come from bad,

In October 1863 – the month before Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address – the president declared the last day of November as a national Thanksgiving Day.

He thereby made the day a regular national holiday.

Before then, a day of Thanksgiving was occasionally observed after a presidential proclamation. One of those occasional days came when the Continental Congress met in York, Pa., in 1777-78. That body called for a day of Thanksgiving and Praise after learning of a then-rare Continental Army victory in Saratoga, N.Y.

Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation did not resonate with the South. Perhaps it was that opening sentence in his proclamation: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”

With Gettysburg still in view, the battlefield had not been fruitful for the South, and its agricultural fields were taxed to provide for Southerners and their armies.

So, many Southerners didn’t get to the part about giving thanks for the “providence of Almighty God.”

But Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving also didn’t resonate with everyone in the North, such as in York County.

In 1864, with a renewed call from Lincoln for a day of Thanksgiving, the York Gazette provided a scant nine-line notice about this national holiday. The Democrat newspaper with a big voice said the day would be appropriately observed in York borough with the closing of stores and services at places of worship.

Meanwhile, its pages grumbled about fraud that gave the recent presidential election to the newspaper’s foe, Lincoln, in his re-election bid against its friend, George McClellan. It groused that preachers were failing to use their pulpits to fight the demoralizing impact of war, which the York Gazette opposed.

The newspaper, like many of its customers in York County, wanted peace. The practical result of peace at that point of the war would have been to leave slavery intact in the South.

So no note of thanks on the Gazette’s pages.

In its next edition — Nov. 29, 1864 — the weekly newspaper chose not to report on the national holiday and the hundreds of people who went to churches.

Just more grousing about the state of the nation.


York countians observing Thanksgiving Day today might take a lesson from the York Gazette about how not to spend a holiday.

Sure, many are concerned about the state of things. Our county, state and nation face immense challenges

But to let cynicism overshadow thanksgiving on a day set aside to thank God for America’s many blessings, well, we’re falling into something akin to that found around here 150 years ago.

Words from Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 are appropriate as a reminder here: “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.”


What can such unmitigated cynicism as found in York County and elsewhere in America in 1864 do?

York Gazette, a predecessor of the York Daily Record, stated with a snicker on Dec. 6, 1864: “A Washington boot-maker states authoritatively that ‘Old Abe’s last’ is a very big thing.”

As it turns out, those boots might have been Abraham Lincoln’s last. The man that the York Gazette opposed with such peevishness and venom was dead five months later.

Bootmaker statement.
The York Gazette ran what its owner, David Small, must have thought was a humorous jab at his political foe, Abraham Lincoln, on Dec. 6, 1864. The Gazette was the leading Copperhead newspaper in York County in the Civil War era. That political movement, sometimes called Peace Democrats, opposed the war and regularly called for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Also of interest: Thanksgiving Day thoughts: Sermon in 1846 from son of York County resonates today.


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