A Richmond editorial (1864) targets Lincoln’s Thanksgiving

Posted on November 25, 2015 by


As my previous Thanksgiving posts show, I’m always fascinated over how there is this back and forth between Virginia and Massachusetts when it comes to Thanksgiving. I’m sure this year will see the same old posts on Facebook, arguing that Berkeley Hundred was the actual “first” Thanksgiving. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before (2010), it’s much more complicated when we try to define what, exactly, we mean as “the first”.

When pondering what I might post about this year (it’s almost an annual tradition, it seems), I came across a piece via “History’s” Facebook page (formerly known as the History Channel) about pumpkin pie (no pun intended… err, well, sure… why not?). I was most interested in a snippet, within the article, from a Richmond newspaper (The Daily Dispatch, Nov. 10, 1864) which was hostile to Lincoln’s Thanksgiving (not so much the pumpkin pie and turkey as some other points). So, I looked into the quote a little more and found the full article. Now, if you’re looking for feel-good history, this isn’t it. If, however, you are as curious as I am about this long-held animosity (by some… not all), then it’s an interesting read.

Lincoln’s thanksgiving day.

We observe that Lincoln, with commendable gratitude, has issued his proclamation for a day of thanksgiving among the universal Yankee nation. This is an annual custom of that people, heretofore celebrated with devout oblations to themselves of pumpkin pie and roast turkey. We have nothing to say against the custom. It is one becoming a better people, and which even they have great reasons for observing. If any body on the earth has reason to be thankful that the rain falls on the unjust as well as the just, it is the Yankee.

At this time they have special grounds for thanksgiving. The formula of the Pharisee, always adapted to their national self-esteem, has been demonstrated in this war after a fashion which must carry conviction to the most incredulous. It is a formula, more-over, in which even those can join who have not the privilege of being Yankees. “I thank thee that I am not as other men.” The Yankee may say that with a grateful heart, and other men can never be thankful enough that it is literally true. So let us all have a day of thanksgiving, and the national airs of Yankee Doodle and Dixie for once be blended in honor of the same delightful beatitude.

That the Yankee is not as other men, he proved by drawing the sword upon the old customers whose trade had made him rich, and laboring with all his might and main to cut open the goose that laid him the golden egg. What “other men” would have hit upon so ingenious an expedient for improving their condition. In 1860, their nation was free from debt. The interest upon their debt in 1861 is over eighty-one millions of dollars, which is about five millions more than the whole revenue of the United States the year before they went to war. By the 1st of May next, their national debt will amount to $2,500,000,000, and an interest of $113,000,000. This is something to be thankful for, if they mean to pay it.–In 1860, a million or more of Yankees were alive and eating thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie who will not be crowding the tables at the thanksgiving of 1864. The Yankee who does not rejoice that these fellows are out of the way, and that he is eating their share as well as his own, must be lost to all the finer feelings of his race.

It is much to be thankful for that they have such a President as Lincoln. What other men on the habitable globe would have chosen an ignorant and vulgar backwoods pettifogger for their Chief Magistrate; or, having incurred the loss of the richest portion of their territory, more than a million of men, and two billions of money, in penalty of their folly, would have worked for his re-election with every energy of soul and body? What other men would expect anything else from another four years experiment but a double amount of debt and dead men? What other men would find occasion for thanksgiving in such a past and such a future? But the Yankee knows what he is about. The money of the Government goes into his own pocket; and the fewer to eat, the more to be eaten. So he sends up his praises for Abraham Lincoln, that dispenser of fat contracts and thinner out of crowded populations.

What “other men” would have carried on a war in the spirit and manner in which the pious and exemplary Sons of the Pilgrims have conducted this contest? Thousands of dwelling-houses burned and their once happy and unoffending inmates turned out to face, as best they may, cold and starvation; ten thousand barns and mills, with all their contents, given to the flames; whole cities depopulated; other cities made the target of a storm of bomb-shells, bursting among helpless, shrieking women and children; vast and once lovely regions of country laid black and bare by the fiery besom of desolation! Surely no “other men” but Yankees could perpetrate, in the eves of the world, deeds like these; and no other men, in any age, would thank the God of Christianity for the achievements of devils. Let us rejoice with the Yankee that “he is not as other men.” Better to be the victim than the perpetrator of crimes against God and Humanity.

Obviously, courtesy of some rather unpleasant realities (there’s a lot of interesting stuff to discuss here) experienced up to that point in the Civil War, the person who wrote the editorial didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy about Lincoln’s Thanksgiving.

Yet, we need to consider this editorial for what it was worth. As I’ve pointed out in the past, the South and the holiday we know as Thanksgiving, even going back to the history of the American Civil War, isn’t quite as bitter as some seem to make it out to be. For example, consider these throw-back Cenantua’s Blog Thanksgivings, here (2012 – a Confederate general’s daughter embraces New England, including, most certainly, the legacy of the Mayflower with her book, Tales of the Mayflower Children, 1927) , here (2013 – the ancestral ties between some prominent Southern names… to include Robert E. Lee, Gen. Richard Taylor, and Jefferson Davis’ wife… in the Civil War and the story of the Mayflower and Plymouth) and here (2014 – Stonewall Jackson’s sister-in-law… the very “poetess of the Confederacy”… embracing the New England ties to the holiday in her poem “The First Thanksgiving, A.D. 1622”).

Then too, while everyone likes to cite Abraham Lincoln as the brainchild for setting the wheels in motion for the day to become a National holiday, consider also this oldie (another from 2013, featuring the story of Sarah Josepha Hale’s efforts) from the archives of Cenantua’s Blog.

Whatever your traditional or unique customs for the day, I wish you all a warm and pleasant Thanksgiving.

*Please be sure to take me up on those “leftovers”, and take those links to Cenantua’s Blog’s Thanksgivings past. 🙂