Thanksgiving Source Documents: Abraham Lincoln, from Family Christmas Online™

1863 may seem like an odd year for the President of the United States to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving. The nation was in the midst of a brutal civil war. Although there were signs that the Union was getting the "upper hand," it was also evident that the war would drag on for another year or three.

Lincoln himself faced much opposition in the government, from politicians who thought he was mishandling the war to others who thought the Union should simply declare a cease-fire, give the Confederate states whatever they demanded, and allow slavery to continue indefinitely.

At the same time, the rediscovery of Bradford's memoirs and Longfellow's poem celebrating the Plymouth pioneers had given the North a sense of heritage and early history that did not revolve around Virginia's early settlement. In many ways, Northerners saw the Puritains as models for the way they imagined themselves: devout, thrifty, hard-working, literate, and conscientious. It was a romanticized view, but it was comforting during hard times.

In his revelation, Lincoln notes that even during the darkest days of the United States' most brutal war to date, most Northern cities were preserved, agriculture and industry were thriving, and the nation was actually growing. This he attributed, not to human hands, but to Divine providence.

    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 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.

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