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Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation may be little noted but should be long remembered

James Getty, portraying President Abraham Lincoln was on hand to say a few words at the Woolson Monument for the 57th Annual Remembrance Day Observance in Gettysburg on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Jason Plotkin - Daily Record/Sunday News
Abraham Lincoln and his presidency is rightly remembered in this 150th season after his Gettysburg Address. But another proclamation 150 years ago helped shaped America today. His Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 established Thanksgiving as a national holiday, the last Thursday in November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt later established it as the fourth Thursday. This photo shows re-enactor James Getty at Remembrance Day observances in Gettysburg. See a ydr.com gallery from that day: Remembrance Day. Also of interest: Gettysburg Dedication Day 150: 6 best story, photo and video links and Thanksgiving Day thoughts: Sermon in 1846 from son of York County resonates today.

The nation has little noted another key Civil War-era document that has reached its 150th anniversary.

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” a Thanksgiving resolution issued by Abraham Lincoln on Oct. 3, 1863, stated.

Lincoln and proclamation writer Secretary of State William Seward had the hand of God in the Union victory in Gettysburg top of mind. That battle’s outcome, of course, informed Lincoln’s famous address at Gettysburg 150 years ago.

This Oct. 3 resolution called for an established national day of thanksgiving, an idea that had been put forth repeatedly by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale.

Up to that point, states had issued their own proclamations of thanksgiving, as did Lincoln on the national level earlier in the Civil War, according to the website, AbrahamLincolnOnline.org.

Indeed, the declaration of days of thanksgiving and praise was as old as our nation. The first of seven such days in the American Revolution was decreed when the Continental Congress was meeting in York in the Valley Forge winter of 1777-78.

But no established moment of thanks was set until Lincoln took up Hale’s challenge in 1863. With a flourish of his pen in early October, Lincoln set the day as the last Thursday in November.

That 150-year-old resolution has a lesson for us on Thanksgiving Day, 2013.

Lincoln’s glass-half-full approach pointed out that relative peace reigned outside the theater of war. Agriculture and industry had developed despite of – or maybe because of – the war. Despite the human toll from war, population had steadily increased, and the war would spark a stronger nation after the war.

That such optimism could be expressed at a time when brother was fighting against brother should encourage us today when the world seems to be wobbling out of control. As just one example, political gridlock in Washington, D.C., today seemingly impairs progress on anything.

So Lincoln’s act of Thanksgiving to God for his provisions should be long remembered.

One footnote in the Lincoln Thanksgiving story bears a final lesson.

AbrahamLincolnOnline.org says a year after Seward drafted the manuscript, it was sold to benefit Union troops.

Not only did Abraham Lincoln give thanks for God’s providence, he put that thanks into action for the benefit of others.

From the American Presidency Project:
By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

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 of iron and coal as of the 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 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.

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.


By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Citation: Abraham Lincoln: “Proclamation 106 – Thanksgiving Day, 1863,” October 3, 1863. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69900.

James Getty, portraying President Abraham Lincoln was on hand to say a few words at the Woolson Monument for the 57th Annual Remembrance Day Observance in Gettysburg on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Jason Plotkin - Daily Record/Sunday News

James Getty, as Abraham Lincoln, delivers the Gettysburg Address as part of Remembrance Day, 2013.
Also of interest:Did York’s Thanksgiving proclamation indeed create America’s first Thanksgiving?

Also, other holiday-related posts:
Pre-World War II Thanksgiving holds lessons for York countians today and Henry Laurens’ Christmas in York Town: ‘I will not quit my post, although I … fear that I may perish on it’ and ‘Sandpaper Sisters’ rubs readers right way.