Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation to a nation divided

Thanksgiving Day Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation to a nation divided

In today’s political climate, where our nation seems to be ever more divided, it’s rather fitting that we are commemorating a National Day of Thanks. It was a nation much more divided than we are today that prompted Abraham Lincoln to issue his Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1863.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation — which is recognized as the beginning of the modern Thanksgiving holiday — was the first given by a president since George Washington had proclaimed a day of general thanksgiving on October 3, 1789, when he said:

“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; …”

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation would serve as the first in an unbroken string of such proclamations by every president since.

In a letter by Sarah Josepha Hale, an elderly magazine editor, written to Lincoln, she urged the president to declare a National Day of Thanks in order to develop a “deep moral influence” on American character, and reunite a country deeply divided by the Civil War.

Just months after the Battle of Gettysburg — an incident where the Union lost nearly 30 percent of its troops and the Confederacy lost nearly 40 percent of theirs — Lincoln heeded Hale’s request and issued his Thanksgiving proclamation beginning with these words (his complete declaration is below):

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with blessing of fruitful fields and healthful skies.”

Why did Abraham Lincoln use such hopeful words in the midst of a bloody Civil War? Was he some sort of Pollyanna politician trying to hide the unpopular truth of the war’s great cost from the citizens of America? I don’t think so. I believe he was simply acknowledging something we sometimes still hear in churches today.

God is good! All the time!

In scripture, Colossians 2:6-7 reads: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (NIV)

Political differences are likely to continue, and you and I won’t always see things eye-to-eye, but we must never allow our differences to a division so great that it keeps us from being thankful for the goodness of God.

If Abraham Lincoln was able to show such incredible gratitude during a time when our nation was LITERALLY divided, certainly we can do no less today.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

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

Thanksgiving Day


David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.

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