Lincoln's words still resonate today
Editor’s note: At the request of the first Federal Congress, President George Washington issued a proclamation calling for a “Day of Publick Thanksgiving” on Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789. Subsequent presidents issued similar proclamations, but states observed the day on different dates or not at all.
Abraham Lincoln was the first to declare a national holiday, on the last Thursday of November.
In 1939, the last Thursday fell on the last day of the month, causing President Franklin Roosevelt to worry that the shortened holiday shopping season would hurt the economic recovery (and you thought Black Friday was a recent invention). Roosevelt moved the holiday to the next-to-last Thursday, but some states refused to comply. In 1941, a compromise between the House and the Senate set the holiday on the fourth Thursday, where it has remained since.
We offer Lincoln’s proclamation today in the spirit of healing, not from a civil war but from a divide that sometimes feels like it, and in the face of a common enemy, the novel coronavirus. May members of Congress approach the weighty issues they face today in the same spirit of compromise that settled the date of our national holiday.
We wish all our readers a happy Thanksgiving.
October 3, 1863
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. 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 theatre of military conflict; while that theatre 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, tranquility and Union.