By | James Strock | jamesstrock.substack.com
Thanksgiving is arguably the most American of our holidays.
In his first year as our first president, George Washington declared the last Thursday in November as a day of thanks for our new nation. Thereafter the holiday was observed in various ways in various states. As part of his project of reinforcing our shared identity as Americans, President Lincoln transformed it into a national holiday.
Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued in October 1863. The outcome of the Civil War was very much in doubt—as were Lincoln’s prospects of reelection in the coming year. The president would deliver the Gettysburg Address on Thursday, November 19th, the week before Thanksgiving.
Far from triumphalist, Lincoln’s proclamation called for “a day of humiliation and prayer.” It was to be a moment for Americans to recognize our debts of honor to one another, including those who came before us, those who come after us.