A Nation Comes Together, Time and Again, to Give Thanks

Samuel Adams (John Singleton Copley, circa 1772, public domain).

Well before the outbreak of America’s devastating Civil War, the concept of Thanksgiving was on the minds of the nation’s founding fathers. Among those who grasped the importance of inspiring shared feelings of unity and gratitude between residents of the United States was Samuel Adams, who drafted the nation’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, which was then officially issued by the Continental Congress on 1 November 1777:

“FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth ‘in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.’

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”

Nearly twelve years later, on 3 October 1789, President George Washington also urged Americans to come together to express their gratitude, and proclaimed that that year’s celebration would be held on 26 November:

“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

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 favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States 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 — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Thanksgiving, November 1863 (Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 5 December 1863, public domain).

Nearly three quarters of a century later, Pennsylvania’s Civil War governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin, urged his fellow Keystone State residents to pray that God would “bestow upon our Civil Rulers, wisdom and earnestness in council and upon our military leaders zeal and vigor in action, that the fires of rebellion may be quenched, that we, being armed with His defense, may be preserved from all perils, and that hereafter our people living in peace and quietness, may, from generation to generation, reap the abundant fruits of His mercy; and with joy and thankfulness praise and magnify His holy name.”

A year later, President Abraham Lincoln penned the following words as part of his own sobering, yet hopeful proclamation:

“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.”

So, with our common heritage in mind, and as an expression of deep gratitude for the ongoing support of our many wonderful readers and volunteers who have helped us build a loyal following for 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story, we present this collection of links to our most popular Thanksgiving-related content. With our best wishes from “our house” to yours, wherever you reside in this our United States of America, may you have a peaceful, bountiful and joyous holiday season. And in the New Year to come, may we all, finally, embrace the belief that one’s ability to show kindness and compassion in the face of adversity is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Thanksgiving Post Collection — 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story

 

Sources:

1. Basler, Roy P., editor, et. al. Collected works, Vol. 6. The Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

2. Curtin, Andrew Gregg. Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving – 1862,” in Pennsylvania Archives: Fourth Series, Vol. VIII: “Papers of the Governors, 1858-1871,” Samuel Hazard, John Blair Lynn, William Henry Egle, et. al., editors. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1902.

3. Snyder Family Recipes: Turkey, Filling and Gravy (Thanksgiving and Christmas),” in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Snyder Family Archives: © 2017-present. All rights reserved.

4. Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863: A primary source by Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Nast.” New York, New York: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of History, retrieved online 1 November 2017.

5. Thanksgiving Proclamation 1777 By the Continental Congress: The First National Thanksgiving Proclamation.” Plymouth, Massachusetts: Pilgrim Hall Museum, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

6.Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789,” in “Education — Primary Sources.” Mount Vernon, Virginia: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, retrieved online 4 November 2019.

7. Wharton, Henry D. Letter from the Sunbury Guards: Key West, Fla., 23 August 1863 (Henry Wharton’s Thanksgiving Update, 1863). Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 5 September 1863.

 

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