The Origin of the Thanksgiving Holiday

We’re all familiar with “the Thanksgiving story,” complete with pilgrims, Indians, and a feast. That’s nice, but what about the holiday that we celebrate each November – how did that officially recognized observance come to be? J. Stephen Conn at The Confederate Digest tells us what the Northern history books neglect to point out. This is from a post on Confederate Digest:

During the Thanksgiving season we often hear that the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation was given by Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. on October 3, 1863. What the northern history books fail to mention is that Lincoln, bowing to political pressure, copied the President of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis actually had made the first national Proclamation of Thanksgiving two years earlier in Richmond, Virginia. Here it is:

Proclamation of Thanksgiving, 1861
by President Jefferson Davis

WHEREAS, it hath pleased Almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.

And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.

Now therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in view of impending conflict, do hereby set apart Friday, the 15th day of November, as a day of national humiliation and prayer, and do hereby invite the reverend clergy and the people of these Confederate States to repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of Almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.

Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31st day of October, year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.

By the President,

(Thank you to the English Friends of The South Facebook page)

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Confederate Colonel and The Southern Agrarian blogs. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
This entry was posted in Culture and Heritage, history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Origin of the Thanksgiving Holiday

  1. Wyandotte says:

    “…that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.”

    All that praying didn’t work, did it. Well, maybe next time.

  2. “Maybe next time” indeed. The halftime show is wrapping up now and the second half is about to begin.

  3. Andre J. Davillae says:

    The Confederate History & Heritage Month Facebook page recently posted a link to The Federalist Papers’ article titled “Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.” The article reads:

    “Following a resolution of Congress, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the 26th of November 1789 a day of ‘public thanksgiving and prayer’ devoted to ‘the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.’ Reflecting American religious practice, Presidents and Congresses from the beginning of the republic have from time to time designated days of fasting and thanksgiving…”

    The article goes on to include the transcript of President Washington’s proclamation.

    I am glad that our beloved President Jefferson Davis made a proclamation of thanksgiving in the Confederacy. However, the credit for a national day of thanksgiving should go further back to the inspiring Father of America who was also the inspiration for our Confederacy, President George Washington.

  4. Following is from Wikipedia on the topic of the date of observance:

    … The reason for the earlier Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada has often been attributed to the earlier onset of winter in the north, thus ending the harvest season earlier. Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century. Prior to Canadian Confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872, when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales’ recovery from a serious illness. By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6. However, when World War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week. To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date on the second Monday of October. Since 1971, when the American Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, the American observance of Columbus Day has coincided with the Canadian observance of Thanksgiving.

    Much as in Canada, Thanksgiving in the United States was observed on various dates throughout history. From the time of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln, the date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century. Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states. Because of the ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America’s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

    On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. Two years earlier, Roosevelt had used a presidential proclamation to try to achieve this change, reasoning that earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.

    What I’m taking away from the discussion is that Thanksgiving was rather loosely celebrated at that point in history. Jefferson Davis decided that a revival of giving thanks was needed, so he made his proclamation. Lincoln then decided to do the same a bit later. Neither Jefferson Davis nor Lincoln nor George Washington actually originated the idea of setting aside a date to formally give thanks. Various days of giving thanks have been going on since the late 1500’s with 1621 being a commonly accepted starting date in America. The current date wasn’t set until 1941.

Comments are closed.