The Unsung Hero of America's Thanksgiving
President Lincoln first declared the final Thursday of November to be a national holiday in 1863, in a proclamation that included an ask for Divine intervention to “heal the wounds of the nation” amid the horror of the Civil War.
Though the "Proclamation of Thanksgiving" sounded themes that Lincoln would later voice at Gettysburg and in his Second Inaugural, our greatest writer president had a close collaborator in crafting it, in the person of William Seward, Secretary of State in his “Team of Rivals” Cabinet.
Historian Ted Widmer recounted the political and personal backstory behind the collaboration in the Washington Post last week, poignantly reaching for lessons to inform America's new era of fratricidal disunity:
The proclamation is not generally listed among Lincoln’s great achievements, and with good reason. Much of it was written by Seward.
It may be surprising, on the face of it, to think that Lincoln needed a speechwriter. Most historians consider him the most talented wordsmith of all the presidents.
But he and Seward had forged a close partnership, including acts of writing — the brilliant peroration about our “better angels” at the end of Lincoln’s first inaugural address stemmed from a thought Seward had first expressed. Their partnership was all the more impressive because these two career politicians had run hard against each other for the Republican nomination in 1860.
That kind of cooperation between rivals, for a greater cause, is hard to find in 2019.
Talk about your understatement.
Here is the text of the Lincoln proclamation whose unintended consequences include the Macy’s Parade, three NFL games in glorious HD and secular gluttony for foodies, all on one glorious day, with Happy Thanksgiving wishes from all the turkeys at Newsmakers,.
Washington, D.C. October 3, 1863
By the 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 defence, 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.
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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State