On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln invited his fellow citizens to celebrate “a day of Thanksgiving” the following month. Here are excerpts from his proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies … 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 to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving …”
A piece of Lincoln’s phrasing in the proclamation — “fit and proper” — foreshadowed words he would speak at Gettysburg 47 days later:
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
Historian Shelby Foote said “you can’t understand the United States unless you understand the Civil War.” That goes for Thanksgiving, too, as Lincoln urged citizens “in every part” of our country to come together. His proclamation echoed the appeal to the South that he made in his first inaugural address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
I love Lincoln the writer as much as Lincoln the president. Probably more.
This Thanksgiving, and every day, may our hearts be touched by, in Lincoln’s words, “the better angels of our nature.”