Which president made a proclamation to make this an official holiday?
I thought it would be interesting to read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863, in light of the recent understanding of "separation of church and state." Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1621, but it became a national holiday thanks to Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving isn’t just a time to give thanks, because we ought to be giving thanks on a regular basis. It is a time to give thanks corporately, as a community, as a nation. That was Abraham Lincoln’s contribution in 1863.
I was trying to remember where this was exactly in the Civil War. In mid-1863 the tide of the war had just turned. Gettysburg was the turning point in early July--the 1st, 2nd , and 3rd of 1963--and on the 4th Vicksburg fell under Grant after a long five or six month siege there. It was a bad week for the South. So there was a big turning point in July and things started going the way of the Union. There was plenty to give thanks for, in a sense. Yet at the same time there was a bloody war continuing, and lives were still being lost. It would two more years of unimaginable carnage before the Civil War would end.
In the midst of this difficult time, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday and he did so with these words. Listen closely, especially in light of the present atmosphere of so-called separation of church and state.
Proclamation of Thanksgiving*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.
October 3, 1863
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 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.
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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
And so we have done now for some 131 years. We have set aside the day. On that day all over this country the post offices are closed, banks are closed, people observe the national holiday. But are they observing the holiday that Abraham Lincoln instituted in 1863? No, not quite.
Abraham Lincoln, in his official capacity as president, acknowledged that we owe everything to God. He called on us to humble ourselves in penitence for our disobedience, confess our sins with contrition, ask for God’s mercy and give Him praise for his love, for all of His care for us. This is not the Thanksgiving our country now officially observes, for it is de facto illegal for those under the color of governmental authority to take the initiative to honor God in this way.
You can’t do it in public places
We can’t do that anymore. We can’t do it in schools. We can’t do it on government property. We can’t even put a cross on a hill in San Diego because people are offended by that. Why? Because the government owns the air, I guess.
Now, my point is not to try to get prayer back into schools. I actually don’t think we can turn back the clock on that one. Any prayer we succeeded in having included would have to be too general and "pluralistic" to be acceptable to the God Who demanded we have no false Gods before Him. My point is to show how far removed the present atmosphere of the so-called "separation of church and state" is from what was understood by our forefathers. The current practice is not the original notion of non-establishment that the Bill of Rights mandates, and Lincoln’s comments make this clear
Notice how natural it was for someone like the president of our country--many would say the greatest president our country has ever seen (and probably the saddest)--in the midst of an agonizing trial of national proportions--the civil war--to call the nation to repentance, prayer, and thanksgiving to God.
What a man. And what a change we have gone through since then to now.
*Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler.