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America's First Official Thanksgiving Conceived In War

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By John E. Carey
Thanksgiving, 2006

The first "Official" Thanksgiving in the United States of America was celebrated in 1863. President Lincoln, by proclamation, declared a day of Thanksgiving in the middle of the Civil War!

The original proclamation is in fact dated October 3, 1863. Just a few months before, on July 1-3, 1863, the Union and Confederate Armies had clashed at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During those three days 3,155 Union soldiers were killed and between 2,600 and 4,500 Confederate soldiers were killed. But they were all Americans.

The total of the killed, wounded and missing during those three days for the Union side was 23,040. The Confederate estimate is between 20,650 and 25,000.

The outcome of the Civil War was by no means clear in October, 1863. We still could have finished the conflict with two separate nations on the North American continent: instead of one United States.

Despite Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July, 1863, the nation still had 22 months of bloody Civil War ahead of it. At the end of the Civil War the nation had suffered approximately 630,000 deaths and over 1 million total casualties.

But President Lincoln and his cabinet discussed the situation in the country frequently and they came to several conclusions. Despite the tremendous loss of life and destruction, the population was indeed on the rise. The fields in the north were producing prodigious amounts of food. The mines were producing more coal, iron and precious metals than ever before. The cabinet officers wanted the President of the United States to remind the people to thank God for His blessings!

Amid all this suffering of the Civil War the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, ordered a Day of Thanksgiving in this Proclamation:

START QUOTE:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

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 unequaled 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 has 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 consiousness 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 one 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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

END QUOTE

According to an April 1, 1864 letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy wrote in his diary on October 3, 1863 that he had complimented Secretary Seward on his brilliant writing.
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http://peace-and-freedom.blogspot.com/
John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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