SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — While we usually celebrate pilgrims and Indigenous people at Thanksgiving, we have the 16th President Abraham Lincoln to thank for its status as a national holiday.
Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor to Godey’s Lady Book, a popular 19th century magazine for women, was influential in Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday. She wrote editorials for 15 years about a holiday in Godey’s, as well as letters to several presidents lobbying for the creation of the holiday, including on Sept. 28, 1863, to Lincoln and his Secretary of State William Seward.
“You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution,”Hale wrote in her letter.
Five days later on Oct. 3, 1863, Lincoln, alongside Seward, issued a proclamation declaring the day as a national holiday.
“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,”Lincoln’s proclamation reads.
Lincoln wanted to give thanks after a year of deadly battles during the Civil War.
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” he wrote. “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 the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Several states were already celebrating days of thanks sporadically, but Lincoln’s proclamation set in stone an official, unified day for the nation.
“The civil war context made such a day even more necessary even more necessary,” Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum historian Chris McWhirter wrote. “Both sides occasionally proclaimed days of thanksgiving to recognize and potentially foster divine support for their respective causes.”
The first pardoned turkey
Also started in 1863 was the tradition of the first presidential sparing of a turkey. A citizen sent the Lincolns to feast on for a Christmas dinner. Lincoln’s youngest son, 10-year-old Tad, befriended the turkey, naming it Jack. Tad protested eating Jack and begged his father to do something. Abraham then wrote a reprieve that saved Jack.
According to the White House Historical Society, several presidents later, including Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan famously posed with a turkey gifted to them, before George H.W. Bush began the yearly tradition of issuing a presidential pardon in 1989.