The year that is drawing toward 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 can not 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 unequaled 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater 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 plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our 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 battlefield, 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 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. 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 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
1863 was one of the most dramatic years in American history. On January 1 of that year, Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was issued, declaring that persons held in any territory or state in armed insurrection against the United States would be forever free. July 1-3, 1863 saw the bloodiest battle in America's history, Gettysburg, with deaths ranging upwards of 46,000 to as much as 51,000 troops from the two sides. November 19, 1863 was the scene of the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, including Lincolns' famous Gettysburg Address.
Sometimes lost in the historic events of that year is another of Lincoln's proclamations, this one being his Thanksgiving Proclamation. It is of course true that days of Thanksgiving had long been celebrated in America, beginning with the "first Thanksgiving" celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. George Washington issued his own Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789 at the end of the long and difficult Revolutionary War.
Since 1861, of course, there had been a terrifying and brutal Civil War fought between the United States and the Confederacy with thousands upon thousands of deaths and a horrifying number of soldiers injured or lost to disease. 1863 at long last saw the tide begin to turn in favor of the Union, climaxing with the Battle of Gettysburg and the Union victory at Vicksburg. There were dark days ahead to be sure, but it was looking more and more like the Union would see final victory.
At the suggestion of a national magazine editor, Lincoln on October 3, 1863 issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, for the first time setting aside the last Thursday in November as a National Day for giving thanks. The final page of the original text may be found in the image accompanying this post. It is in the hand of William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State. The text of this Proclamation is below.