The Origin of Thanksgiving – The Conversable Economist

Thanksgiving is a traditional menu day, and part of my vacation is to reprint this annual column on the day’s origins.

The first presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was issued by George Washington on October 3, 1789. But it was a one-time event. Individual states (particularly in New England) continued to issue Thanksgiving proclamations on different days in the following decades. But it wasn’t until 1863 that a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale, after 15 years of writing letters, prompted Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to declare the last Thursday in November a national holiday – a pattern that then continued into the future.

An the original and therefore hard to read version of George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. can be viewed on the Library of Congress website. The economist in me was intrigued, noting that some of the reasons for expressing gratitude included “the means we have for acquiring and disseminating useful knowledge … the growth of science among them and us – and in general to bestow on all mankind such a degree of temporary prosperity as he alone knows.” the best thing”.

In addition, the original proclamation of Thanksgiving was not without controversy and controversy in the House of Representatives as an example of unwanted and inappropriate interference by the federal government. According to George Washington Papers website at the University of Virginia.

The house was not unanimous in its determination to give thanks. Edanus Burke of South Carolina countered that he “doesn’t like this imitation of European ways when they just make fun of thanksgiving.” Thomas Tudor Tucker “thought the House had no right to meddle in matters that did not concern them. Why should the President tell the people to do what, perhaps, he does not want to do? They may not be inclined to thank the Constitution until they are satisfied that it contributes to their safety and happiness. We don’t know yet, but they may have reasons to be unhappy with the effects it has already produced; but whether it be so or not, this is a matter in which Congress has nothing to do; it is a religious question, and as such it is forbidden to us. If Thanksgiving is to be held, let it be done by decision of several states.”

Here Transcript of George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation from the National Archives..

thanksgiving proclamation

President of the United States of America. Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to recognize the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefactions, and to humbly ask for his protection and favor, and since both houses of Congress, by their joint committee, have asked me to “recommend to the people of the United States the day public thanksgiving and prayer, which should be observed, acknowledging with a grateful heart the many outstanding mercies of Almighty God, especially enabling them to peacefully establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. “.

Therefore, I now recommend and appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November, as the next, for the people of these states to consecrate to the service of this great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all good that was, that is, or that is. will – so that we may all then unite to give him our sincere and humble gratitude – for his good care and protection of the people of this country before they became a nation – for the signal and many favors, and the favorable intervention of His providence, which we have experienced in the course and close of the recent war, – for the great degree of tranquility, unity, and abundance which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceful and reasonable way in which we have been able to establish a constitutional government for our security and happiness, and especially the national, recently instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we have been blessed; and the means at our disposal for the acquisition and dissemination of useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and varied favors that he deigned to show us.

and also that we may then unite in the most humble offering of our prayers and petitions to the great Lord and Ruler of the nations, and implore him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private places, to fulfill our various duties. and relative duties to properly and punctually – to make our national government a blessing to all people, always remaining a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, carefully and conscientiously executed and observed – to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially those who have shown kindness to us ) and bless them with good government, peace and harmony – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the growth of science among them and us – and in general to bestow on all Mankind such a degree of temporary prosperity, which he alone knows as the best.

Given for my hand in the city of New York on the third day of October in the year of the Nativity of Christ, 1789.

Ride: Washington

Sarah Josepha Hale was the editor of the magazine, which was originally called Women’s magazine and later named Women’s book from 1828 to 1877. It was one of the most widely known and influential women’s magazines of its time. Hale wrote to Abraham Lincoln on September 28, 1863, suggesting that a national date be set for Thanksgiving. From Library of Congress, here is a PDF of Hale’s real letter to Lincoln.together with typescript for the eyes of the 21st century. Here are some sentences from Hale’s letter to Lincoln:

“You may have noticed that over the past few years there has been a growing interest in our country to have Thanksgiving on the same day in all states; it now needs national recognition and authoritative fixation just to become forever an American custom and institution. … For the last fifteen years I have expounded this idea in The Ladies’ Book, and placed papers before the Governors of all States and Territories—I also sent them to our ministers abroad and to our missionaries. pagans – and commanders in the fleet. From the recipients I received invariably the most gracious approval. … But I believe that there are obstacles that cannot be overcome without legislative assistance: each state must by law compel the governor to designate the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving every year; — or, since it would take years to realize this path, it occurred to me that the proclamation of the President of the United States would be the best, most reliable, and most appropriate method of national appointment. I wrote to my friend, sir. Tue G. Seward and asked him to discuss this issue with President Lincoln … “

William Seward was Lincoln’s Secretary of State. A remarkable example of rapid government decision-making, Lincoln responded to Hale’s September 28 letter by issuing a proclamation on October 3. It is likely that Seward actually wrote the proclamation and then Lincoln signed it. Here Text of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamationin which the themes of gratitude, mercy and repentance are characteristically mixed:

October 3, 1863
President of the United States of America.

The year that draws to a close has been filled with the blessings of fertile fields and healthy skies. To these bounties, which we enjoy so constantly that we are apt to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, of such an extraordinary nature that they cannot but penetrate and soften even the normally insensible heart. ever vigilant providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of incomparable scope and cruelty, which sometimes seemed to foreign states to cause and provoke their aggression, peace was maintained with all peoples, order was maintained, laws were respected and observed, harmony reigned everywhere, except for the theater of military operations; while this theater was greatly reduced by the advancing Union armies and navies. The necessary diversion of wealth and forces from peaceful industry to national defense stopped neither the plow, nor the shuttle, nor the ship; the ax expanded the borders of our settlements, and the mines, both iron and coal, and precious metals, gave even more than before. The population grew steadily despite the devastation of the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of increased strength and vigor, is allowed to expect a succession of years with a greater increase in freedom. No human council invented, and no mortal hand did these great things. These are the merciful gifts of the Most High God, who, being angry with us for our sins, nevertheless remembered mercy. It seemed to me appropriate and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by all the American people. Therefore, I urge my fellow citizens in all parts of the United States, as well as those at sea and those in foreign lands, to separate and celebrate the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise. our beneficent Father who lives in Heaven. And I commend them, offering the merit to Him for such exceptional deliverances and blessings, they also, with humble repentance for our national corruption and disobedience, have given over to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in lamentable civil strife in which we inevitably involved, and fervently pray for the intervention of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it, as soon as it is in accordance with Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.

In witness whereof I have attached my hand to this document and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third of October, in the year of the birth of Christ one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three and the eighty-eighth of the Independence of the United States.

President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State