Yes, I know… a lot of people issued proclamations of thanksgiving before President Abraham Lincoln. I’ve seen several posting tidbits about it on Facebook. I don’t know how many have noted that the claim belongs to… Lincoln… and, yes, he was a person in power who could and did put the wheels in motion to make it an official national holiday. It wasn’t, however, his brainchild (nor do I believe he would claim that it was). Certainly, he knew that there were plenty before him who declared days of thanksgiving… and I’m sure he was well aware that about twenty-one states were recognizing Thanksgiving, before 1863 (and keep in mind… count’em… that means there were states in the South that were already celebrating it).
It’s really a shame that I have yet to see a single post recognizing the woman behind the day.
In fact, it was… Sarah Josepha Hale… who had lobbied (I use the term knowing that it didn’t become popular until a later time) US presidents for fifteen years, before it finally hit home with Lincoln. Though multiple states were recognizing the day, she was hoping that all states would recognize it, as a single national holiday.
Now, I know, to some, this is not news. In fact, you can go to various sites on the Web, and find the particulars. Nonetheless, since this is a Sesqui moment, I take the opportunity to… remind… and encourage further investigation, regarding the particulars of her efforts. It’s really a great story.
It’s also worthwhile to note, Hale, though a New Hampshire-born woman, shouldn’t be considered so distant, culturally, from the South. Her influence among Southerners might be most evident in her work as editor (she used the title “editress”) of Godey’s Lady’s Book (and, as a sidebar, this ties back into my more recent investigations about what literature had an impact among folks in the Shenandoah Valley). Even during the war, many Southern women sought access to the periodical as it was THE fashion magazine of its time.
I should follow-up with more about Hale and the South in another post, but today… it’s about Thanksgiving. Let’s just jump ahead to Hales letter to Lincoln, dated September 28, 1863, from Philadelphia:
Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.
For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union. But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has occurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.
I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.
Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.
An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.
Excuse the liberty I have taken
With profound respect
Sarah Josepha Hale,
Editress of the “Ladys Book”
On October 3, Lincoln issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.
From my family to yours… here’s wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!