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National Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1864
Reprinted that year in the Bay City Journal.
  • Transcribed by M.A. Kusmierz (February 2004)
  • Bay City Journal -- Friday, November 10, 1864

    National Thanksgiving.

    By the President of the United States of America.

    It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with his guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad, and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their campus, and our sailors on the rivers and seas, with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our working-men in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, he has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.

    Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid, that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

    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 twentieth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.


    By the President,

    Wm. H. Seward, Sec'y of State.

    - Thanksgiving History -

    Our American thanksgiving dates back to the founding pilgrims. In 1676, the pilgrims of Charlestown, Massachusetts declared the first public day for thanksgiving. It remained a local celebration practiced at various dates by each community until 1789. That year President Washington gave it a national emphasis in his proclamation,

    "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of the Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His portection and favor..."

    However, in subsequent years the practice varied from state to state. Then in 1863, President Lincoln resurrected it as unified date for a spritual celebration of this nation by proclaiming the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving.

    The aforementioned historical documents, including President Clinton's proclamation, may be read at the website of Leo Wierzbowski on the Thankgiving Day Proclamation page.

    It is most likely that the President Lincoln's inspiration for fixating the day of a national Thanksgiving was strongly influenced by the following.

      Sarah Josepha Hale, who was the strongest advocate for a national Thanksgiving holiday. She was the editor of Godey's Ladies' Book and Ladies' Magazine. As early as 1827, the subject became a consistent theme in her editorials for these publications, and in repeated letters to officials at all levels of the government, including President Lincoln during the war years.

      The struggle between the northern and southern states over civil and state rights that had been ongoing for many years reached its peak as Abraham Lincoln enter office. The southern states revolted waged war for a separate union. Lincoln responded sending troops to quench the uprising. Many didn't expect that it would take long for northern forces to defeat the south. The Civil War proved to be long and costly to the nation. The war which began in 1861 didn't end until 1865.

      At the Battle of Gettysburg, 60,000 lives were lost. On November 19, 1864, President Lincoln addressed a large audience reflected on the ideal upon which such great sacrafices were made (see "Related Links"). Speaking with friend about that day, he shared these thoughts about how much it had effected him,

      "When I left Springfield (to assume the Presidency) I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ."

    The holiday has been celebrated in November ever since with only an a couple of bumps along the way. In the 1930's, President Roosevelt moved it forward one week to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, but this was highly unpopular with the public, and in 1941, Congress passed a resolution fixing the fourth week in November the legal holiday.

    The origins of setting aside a day of thanksgiving is rooted in the celebration of the autumn harvest, the period of many ancient festivals practiced by European, Grecian, Roman, Egyptian and other cultures seeking favor from a "Higher Spirit" than themselves.

    Related Notes & Pages

    Abraham Lincoln
    Gettysberg Address
    Emancipation Proclamation
    People Referenced
    Clinton, William (Pres.)
    Hale, Sarah J.
    Lincoln, Abraham (Pres.)
    Roosevelt, Franklin (Pres.)
    Washington, George (Pres.)
    Wierzbowski, Leo
    Subjects Referenced
    Ancient festivals
    Battle of Gettysberg
    Charlestown, MA
    Christmas shopping season
    Civil War
    Founding pilgrims
    Gettysberg Address
    Godey's Ladies' Book
    Higher spirit
    Ladies' Magazine
    Washington, D.C.
    Internet Resources
  • Fast and Thanksgiving Days
    ... of Plymouth Colony (www.plimoth.org)
  • American Memory
    Thanksgiving References (www.loc.gov)
  • Thanksgiving Portal
    Links to websites about Thanksgiving. (www.rats2u.com)
  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.