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Advocate editorial board opinion: Editor's letter to president led to national holiday

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 23, 2011 at 5:23 a.m.


Thank goodness for editors.

Sarah Josepha Hale was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book for 15 years, and she had written letters to several presidents asking for a national day of thanksgiving.

But none took notice until Hale, at 74 years old, sent a missive to President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 28, 1863.

Lincoln had already expressed interest in such a day because he had previously closed federal offices for a local day of giving thanks in November 1861.

In her letter to Lincoln, Hale wrote, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the states; it now needs national recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution,"

Hale was referring to many states that held a thanksgiving, but the celebration was on different days.

So it was Lincoln's leadership that prompted Secretary of State William H. Seward to pen a proclamation establishing the national day of thanksgiving. And Lincoln made the proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863.

In the Proclamation of Thanksgiving, Seward wrote, "... 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, tranquility and Union."

We wish all a Happy Thanksgiving and send our prayers for peace here and across the world.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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