United Colonies and States of America
By: Stanley L. Klos
The first Presidential Thanksgiving Day, however, was proclaimed by U.S. Continental Congress and executed by Henry Laurens on November 1, 1777.
In September of 1777 the war for Independence was going very badly for the United States. President John Hancock and his Continental Congress were forced to flee Philadelphia a second time winding up in the small hamlet of York-town (York, PA) 102 miles west of Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress had lost New York City, Fort Ticonderoga and their capitol, Philadelphia, to the British forces. Great Britain’s northern army, under the command of General John Burgoyne, was marching down the Hudson Valley to cut off New England from the Middle Atlantic States. These were perilous days but Congress pressed on with their work conducting what increasingly appeared to be a failing war effort.
America's Four United Republics
I sat in the Chair yesterday & Conducted the Business Eight hours, which is too much, and after that had the Business of my office to attend to as usual … I cannot Stand it much longer in this way.
War has no Charms for me … If I live much longer in Banishment, I shall scarcely know my own Children. Tell my little ones, that if they will be very good, Pappa will come home.Charles Carroll, a Maryland Delegate initially wrote of his York experience that
The Congress still continues the same noisy, empty & talkative assembly it always was since I have known it. No progress has been made in the Confederation tho' all seem desirous of forming one. A good confederation. I am convinced would give us great strength & new vigor. This State is in a great degree disaffected, & the well affected are inactive & supine. This supiness & inactivity I attribute to the government & to the men who govern.
Dear Sir, The Arms of the United States of America having been blessed in the present Campaign with remarkable Success, Congress have Resolved to recommend that one day, Thursday the 18th December next be Set apart to be observed by all Inhabitants throughout these States for a General thanksgiving to Almighty God. And I have it in command to transmit to you the inclosed extract from the minutes of Congress for that purpose. [v]
President Samuel Huntington in the Spring of 1781 proclaimed
"... that Thursday the third day of May next, may be observed as a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer, that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and through the merits of our blessed Savior obtain pardon and forgiveness: that it may please him to inspire our rulers with wisdom and incorruptible integrity, And it is recommended to all the people of these states, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from labor on the said day."
President of the United States in Congress Assembled Thomas McKean in the Fall of 1781, after learning of Washington's victory at Yorktown proclaimed,
"It is therefore recommended to the several states to set apart the 13th day of December next, to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day, with grateful hearts, to celebrate the praises of our gracious Benefactor ..."
"... the observation of the last Thursday, in the 28 day of November next, as a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national 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-- 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.
|George Washington’s First Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. In this signed, handwritten document, Washington thanks “providence” for bringing America through the Revolutionary War, and for the chance “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...” In one of the final acts of the historic first session of the first Federal Congress sitting in New York, Congress had requested that the president issue such a proclamation. On September 28, 1789, the day Congress passed the Thanksgiving Proclamation resolution, the proposed Bill of Rights passed its final Congressional hurdle. Two days later, Washington sent copies of the Bill of Rights to the states for ratification, and the next day issued this Proclamation. - Image Courtesy of Seth Kaller|
Presidential Proclamations of Thanksgiving continued to be issued, at various dates, but the days and even months of the celebrations varied.
President Abraham Lincoln, in an attempt to standardize the date, re-issued the call for Thanksgiving Day to be held on the last Thursday of November as originally proposed President John Hanson's United States in Congress Assembled.
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 theater of military conflict; while that theater 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 defense 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 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 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.
April 10, 1862
Proclamation - Day of Public Thanksgiving for Civil War Victories
July 15, 1863
Proclamation - Day of Thanksgiving, Praise, and Prayer, August 6, 1863
October 3, 1863
Proclamation - Thanksgiving Day, 1863
October 20 1864
Proclamation - Thanksgiving Day, 1864
The National Archives, on their website, explains how this date changed in 1939:
In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving - the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.
To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
H.J. Res. 41, Making the Last Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, October 6, 1941, RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Center for Legislative Archives.
Senate Amendments to H.J. Res. 41, Making the Fourth Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, December 9, 1941, RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Center for Legislative Archives.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the depths of the Great Depression, issued the first third Thursday of November Thanksgiving proclaiming:
I , Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do set aside and appoint Thursday, the thirtieth day of November 1933, to be a Day of Thanksgiving for all our people. May we on that day in our churches and in our homes give humble thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us during the year past by Almighty God.
|White House Photo: November 19th, 1963, The President Receives Thanksgiving Turkey from Poultry and Egg National Board, Accompanied by Senator Everett M. Dirkson.|
By: Stanley Yavneh Klos
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789
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