« Poverty and Government Aid: Facts and 90's Trends | Main | Fall in Health Costs: Eye Laser Surgery, an Uninsured Item »

November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving History, Proclamatinos

Today, I will just post what I posted last year at Thanksgiving. I think I ought to do more re-posting. Some weblogs are for journalism-- and beat the magazines at that-- but this one I think is better suited to items of permanent interst.

This website contains information about the Thanksgiving holiday. For some well- researched facts ( but undue hostility to the Colonial side in King Philip's War), see Karen Knelte's "History of the Modern American Thanksgiving", August 9, 2001 (viewed November 26, 2003).

Thanksgiving Proclamations Here are excerpts from some Thanksgiving proclamations from across American history. When a person is thankful, he is of course has to thanking someone---"to thank" is a transitive verb, requiring an object. Thanksgiving is a time to thank God, as the government proclamations traditionally say. These proclamations make nonsense of the claim that the American Constitution forbids a place for Christianity in public affairs, though it is noteworthy that Thomas Jefferson, unlike his two predecessors, refrained from issuing any Thanksgiving Proclamations.

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ. (1676, Connecticut)

"Forasmuch as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such further Blessings as they stand in Need of: ...(1777, Continental Congress)

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:... (1789, Washington)

Deeply penetrated with this sentiment, I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation,... (1795, Washington)

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation;... (1798, Adams)

As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration , nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributer of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities;.. (1799, Adams)

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are 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 imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union. (Lincoln, 1863)

Let us now, this Thanksgiving Day, reawaken ourselves and our neighbors and our communities to the genius of our founders in daring to build the world's first constitutional democracy on the foundation of trust and thanks to God. Out of our right and proper rejoicing on Thanksgiving Day, let us give our own thanks to God and reaffirm our love of family, neighbor, and community. (1996, Clinton)

Each year on Thanksgiving, we gather with family and friends to thank God for the many blessings He has given us, and we ask God to continue to guide and watch over our country. (2003, Bush)

From: Plimoth-on-Web Plimoth Plantation's Web Site (as of 2003 a dead link)
In 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the providential victory at Saratoga. The 1777 Thanksgiving proclamation reveals its New England Puritan roots. The day was still officially a religious observance in recognition of God's Providence, and, as on the Sabbath, both work and amusements were forbidden. It does not resemble our idea of a Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on family dinners and popular recreation. Yet beneath these stern sentiments, the old Puritan fervor had declined to the extent that Thanksgiving was beginning to be less of a religious and more of a secular celebration. The focus was shifting from the religious service to the family gathering. Communities still dutifully went to church each Thanksgiving Day but the social and culinary attractions were increasing in importance.

A contemporary account of a wartime Thanksgiving provides us alternative testimony to the austere official proclamation. Juliana Smith's 1779 Massachusetts' Thanksgiving description, written in a letter to her friend Betsey Smith (and recorded in her diary as well) provides a good example of what the late 18th century celebration meant to the participants.

National Thanksgivings were proclaimed annually by Congress from 1777 to 1783 which, except for 1782, were all celebrated in December. After a five year hiatus, the practice was revived by President Washington in 1789 and 1795. John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799, while James Madison declared the holiday twice in 1815; none of these were celebrated in the autumn. After 1815, there were no further national Thanksgivings until the Civil War. As sectional differences widened in the Antebellum period, it was impossible achieve the consensus to have a national Thanksgiving. The southern states were generally unreceptive to a "Yankee" custom being pressed on them by the federal government. If the federal government neglected the tradition, however, the individual states did not. The New England states continued to declare annual Thanksgivings (usually in November, although not always on the same day), and eventually most of the other states also had independent observations of the holiday. New Englanders were born proselyters and wherever they went during the great westward migration they introduced their favorite holiday. Thanksgiving was adopted first in the Northeast and in the Northwest Territory, then by the middle and western states. At mid-century even the southern states were celebrating their own Thanksgivings.

By the 1840s when the Puritan holy day had largely given way to the Yankee holiday, Thanksgiving was usually depicted in a family setting with dinner as the central event. The archetypal tradition of harvest celebration had weathered Puritan disapproval and quietly reasserted its influence. Newspapers and magazines helped popularize the holiday in its new guise as a secular autumn celebration featuring feasting, family reunions and charity to the poor. Thanksgiving became an important symbol of the new emphasis on home life and the necessity of enforcing family virtues against the coarse masculine style and cutthroat business practices of the day. This "cult of domesticity" found Thanksgiving a valuable element for promulgating the feminist goals of social reform and the role of the (extended) family as a bastion against the callous workaday world. The holiday focused on the home and hearth where it was hoped a revolution in manners would begin to restore the civilized virtues which had been lost in the new commercial and industrial society.

It is interesting that the same person who was a leading figure in the domesticity movement, Sarah Josepha Hale, also labored for decades to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. A New England author and editor of the influential Godey's Ladies Book, Hale lobbied for a return to the morality and simplicity of days gone by. Each November from 1846 until 1863 Mrs. Hale printed an editorial urging the federal government to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She was finally gratified when Abraham Lincoln declared the first of our modern series of annual Thanksgiving holidays for the last Thursday in November, 1863. Lincoln had previously declared national Thanksgivings for April, 1862, and again for August 6, 1863, after the northern victory at Gettysburg. The southern states had independently declared Thanksgivings of their own, unsullied by Yankee influences, but would later resent the new national Thanksgiving holiday after the war.

Lincoln went on to declare a similar Thanksgiving observance in 1864, establishing a precedent that was followed by Andrew Johnson in 1865 and by every subsequent president. After a few deviations (December 7th in 1865, November 18th in 1869), the holiday came to rest on the last Thursday in November. However, Thanksgiving remained a custom unsanctified by law until 1941! In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to the last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving. Considerable controversy (mostly following political lines) arose around this outrage to custom, so that some Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the 23rd and others on the 30th (including Plymouth, MA). In 1940, the country was once again divided over "Franksgiving" as the Thanksgiving declared for November 21st was called. Thanksgiving was declared for the earlier Thursday again in 1941, but Roosevelt admitted that the earlier date (which had not proven useful to the commercial interests) was a mistake. On November 26, 1941, he signed a bill that established the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving holiday, which it has been ever since.

Both the North and South maintained the tradition of independent state Thanksgivings into the Civil War period. The Confederate Congress declared a Sunday thanksgiving service for July 28, 1861 after their victory at Bull Run, and another for Thursday, September 18, 1862, for the Second Battle at Bull Run. The first national Thanksgiving holiday to be declared by the U.S. government since 1815 occurred in 1862 when President Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving holiday for Sunday, April 13, following the Union victory at Shiloh. Lincoln declared another national Thanksgiving for August 6, 1863, in recognition of the victory at Gettysburg.

On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln declared a second national Thanksgiving that year for the last Thursday in November which followed the Yankee practice of a general November holiday giving thanks for "general causes" rather than "special providences" such as wartime victories. This Thanksgiving became the first in the unbroken series of our modern holiday tradition. Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November, 1864. Andrew Johnson followed with a Thanksgiving on December 7, 1865 (celebrating the Union victory), and each President since then has declared an annual national Thanksgiving.

It might also be noted that none of the presidential declarations of Thansgiving mention the Plymouth Pilgrims or the "First Thanksgiving" until Herbert Hoover's proclamation of 1931 (with the possible exception of Roosevelt's 1905 mention of the colonial custom).

Posted by erasmuse at November 25, 2004 11:51 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Here's the link for Bush's 2004 proclamation:


Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at November 26, 2004 10:30 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?