Thanksgiving is especially meaningful to American farmers for at least two reasons. First, it reflects the roots of America’s heritage, all the way back to the Pilgrims who first observed a feast of thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony in autumn 1620. Second, it underscores that food abundance produced by farmers is foundational to our national well-being. Because of your productivity, the inflation-adjusted cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is almost one-fourth lower than 30 years ago.
Nov. 19, 2017 — Thanksgiving Day as an established national holiday grew from several official proclamations. Each formal declaration originated from the determined request of just a few American citizens. That reveals another facet of America: Individuals with ideas and determination have, and will, lead the way to long-lasting decisions for the nation’s benefit.
The proclamations behind Thanksgiving are listed below with the most recent declaration first, followed by the preceding events that laid the foundations for it.
The proclamation which has remained most firmly embedded in history was Abraham Lincoln’s officially sealed declaration on Oct. 20, 1864. That was just six months before the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. Lincoln was assassinated April 14, 1865.
The proclamation’s formal literary style originated with Secretary of State William Seward, who composed the text which was approved and signed by Lincoln. Much later, the longhand manuscript was sold to benefit veterans of the Civil War. The three pages of that handwritten document are included at the bottom of this story as three separate images.
Thanksgiving Day proclamation on Oct. 20, 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln
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 camps 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 workingmen 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 then be, 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.
Thanksgiving Day proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln
Sarah Josepha Hale, 74-year-old editor of a women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to officially proclaim a “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”
She wrote, “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.”
President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request in only a few days. She had urged a national thanksgiving date for 15 years. Previous presidents had brushed off her requests. Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward composed this proclamation:
Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863 By Abaham Lincoln, President of the United States of America.
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 unequalled 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 plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe 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 battle-field; 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, tranquillity and Union.
George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, but it never became a fixed national holiday. Washington was responding to a Congressional resolution originated by New Jersey Representative Elias Boudinot. Here’s a link to a more detailed history of Thanksgiving in America.
And here’s a newspaper copy of Washington’s proclamation.
Here are the three pages of the Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1864:
President Trump issued his first Thanksgiving proclamation Nov. 17, 2017. Here it is in full:
THANKSGIVING DAY, 2017
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
On Thanksgiving Day, as we have for nearly four centuries, Americans give thanks to Almighty God for our abundant blessings. We gather with the people we love to show gratitude for our freedom, for our friends and families, and for the prosperous Nation we call home.
In July 1620, more than 100 Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower, fleeing religious persecution and seeking freedom and opportunity in a new and unfamiliar place. These dauntless souls arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the freezing cold of December 1620. They were greeted by sickness and severe weather, and quickly lost 46 of their fellow travelers. Those who endured the incredible hardship of their first year in America, however, had many reasons for gratitude. They had survived. They were free. And, with the help of the Wampanoag tribe, and a bountiful harvest, they were regaining their health and strength. In thanks to God for these blessings, the new governor of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and gathered with the Wampanoag tribe for three days of celebration.
For the next two centuries, many individual colonies and states, primarily in the Northeast, carried on the tradition of fall Thanksgiving festivities. But each state celebrated it on a different day, and sometimes on an occasional basis. It was not until 1863 that the holiday was celebrated on one day, nationwide. In the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest battles of our Nation’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the country would set aside one day to remember its many blessings. “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity,” President Lincoln proclaimed, we recall the “bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.” As President Lincoln recognized: “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.”
Today, we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving with a grateful and charitable spirit. When we open our hearts and extend our hands to those in need, we show humility for the bountiful gifts we have received. In the aftermath of a succession of tragedies that have stunned and shocked our Nation – Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; the wildfires that ravaged the West; and, the horrific acts of violence and terror in Las Vegas, New York City, and Sutherland Springs – we have witnessed the generous nature of the American people. In the midst of heartache and turmoil, we are grateful for the swift action of the first responders, law enforcement personnel, military and medical professionals, volunteers, and everyday heroes who embodied our infinite capacity to extend compassion and humanity to our fellow man. As we mourn these painful events, we are ever confident that the perseverance and optimism of the American people will prevail.
We can see, in the courageous Pilgrims who stood on Plymouth Rock in new land, the intrepidness that lies at the core of our American spirit. Just as the Pilgrims did, today Americans stand strong, willing to fight for their families and their futures, to uphold our values, and to confront any challenge.
This Thanksgiving, in addition to rejoicing in precious time spent with loved ones, let us find ways to serve and encourage each other in both word and deed. We also offer a special word of thanks for the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, many of whom must celebrate this holiday separated from the ones for whom they are most thankful. As one people, we seek God’s protection, guidance, and wisdom as we stand humbled by the abundance of our great Nation and the blessings of freedom, family, and faith.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 23, 2017, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-second.
DONALD J. TRUMP