October 3, 1863
President Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863. His words "to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November" began the tradition of Thanksgiving. Please note that George Washington made a proclamation on October 3, 1789 regarding thanksgiving, Washington’s words should not be forgotten.
The United States at the time of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation was certainly a divided Union. For the states of the South, "secession" was the word, thought, and deed of the times. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia had all left the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware were "Border" states; they were slave states with large amounts of anti-slavery support. The Border States stayed in the Union. The western part of the Confederate state of Virginia became the Union state of West Virginia in 1863. The Civil War was a very severe, contentious, and divided time in the history of the United States.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Four years of hellish war followed in which brother fought against brother. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia and the Civil War soon ended. During its thousands of battles, engagements, and skirmishes fought on hundreds of battlefields, creeks, hills, valleys, and plains, estimates are that over 624,000 men from both the North and the South died in the Civil War. All these who died had one thing in common. Whether they were Yankees or Rebels, they all died fighting for freedom, as they believed in it. It happened perhaps right in your own backyard, or nearby.
The year of 1863 was a momentous one in the Civil War. In 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought on July 1, 2, and 3, and General George G. Meade prevailed over General Robert E. Lee. On July 4, 1863, General Grant took Vicksburg after a long siege. With these Yankee victories, the Rebels had taken very heavy blows to their cause and the war had turned in favor of the North. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln was at a small crossroads town in Pennsylvania to help dedicate a new national cemetery. We now recognize Abraham Lincoln’s words of that day as his Gettysburg Address, and it is one of the greatest speeches ever made. All of these events happened in 1863.
The Civil War had thus far claimed many lives of both blue and gray clothed soldiers. Sadly, before this war ended, more and more soldiers would be lying in their graves. Despite the carnage, death, destruction, and free flowing of blood from both the innocent and guilty on both sides in this horrible war, President Abraham Lincoln believed we should set aside a day to be thankful for "the gracious gifts of the Most High God." Thus, on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made the following proclamation to establish a day of thanksgiving:
Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
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 had 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 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.