A President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent author and magazine editor, best known as the author of the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” campaigned for 17 years to have Thanksgiving made a national holiday. She wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States — Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving had only been celebrated in New England, and each state scheduled its own thanksgiving day with timing that varied from January to October, a day of thanksgiving was almost never celebrated in the American South. In 1863, it was Hale’s letter that inspired Abraham Lincoln to support legislation to make the last Thursday in November a national day of thanksgiving. The timing was perfect. Just as it says in the Bible in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The country was in the middle of a devastating civil war, and it was time to unify and count blessings, as elusive as they might seem. What better time to set aside a national day to give thanks?


Lincoln issued this proclamation on October 3, 1863.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
Washington, DC—October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years 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 field 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 theretofore. 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, tranquility, and union.

In testimony wherof I have herunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

[Signed] 
A. Lincoln

Times have changed. I can’t help but think of 1 Chronicles 16:8 which says, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” I wonder what the reaction would be if during this time of war and economic strife our President issued a proclamation stating that the whole American people should acknowledge God’s mercy and offer thanksgiving and praise “to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Would it be accepted with accolades, or criticized by columnists and news talk shows across the nation?

[Dear Heavenly Father] “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” [Amen]

1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (KJV)

Lincoln art print credit: “To Save a Nation” by Larry Winborg

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2 Comments

Filed under Thanksgiving

2 responses to “A President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

  1. You give me a lot to think about, especially when you compare Lincoln's action with our present times. We really need to pray.

  2. I agree. We need to pray always for our country and its leaders.

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