Ever wonder which executives of the United States and of the several states we can give special thanks to for Thanksgiving Day?
Thanksgiving Day is annually observed in the United States with religious services in churches to give thanks to God for the blessings of the year. Especially since its institution in New England, where the custom of a day of reverence for giving thanks originated, as a celebration of family reunion, Thanksgiving Day reminds us all of charitable memories of “going back home to the old farmhouse kitchen, and the pantry crowded with good things to eat,” according to the 1911 classic edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the oldest in the English-speaking world.
Cover Photo Credit: Norman Rockwell
Partaking in giving thanks, originally, was a harvest thanksgiving, a festival sort-of-speak in the late autumn, after the crops have been gathered, as an outgrowth of the very ancient harvest-time family reunion celebrations of old England.
Photo Credit: The Fictional Ceremonial Great Feast in The Great Hall of the Children’s Book Classic Harry Potter
First Thanksgiving in the New World
Plymouth Colony’s first winter in 1621, was so severely marked with danger that it killed nearly half of the Pilgrimage in residence. As the winter turned into spring planting and summer growing of crops, the corn was gathered in the fall of 1621. Governor Bradford decreed a day of giving thanks, essentially establishing the first Thanksgiving in the New World here in North America.
The great feast was prepared by a few women in the colony, who spent days boiling and baking and roasting, as children turned the roasts on the spits over open fires. Guests included scores of native Americans, who brought their own share of wild turkeys and vegetables to the great feast tables made out of wooden cabin doors. As pilgrims and native Americans sat down at the tables, prayers and sermons and songs of praise began three days of a Thanksgiving festival in the fall of 1621.
Going forward,”the Pilgrims set apart a day for thanksgiving at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621; the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the first time celebrated a day of giving thanks in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1860, when it became an annual festival in the [Massachusetts Bay Colony],” according to the classic Encyclopedia Britannica.
From Plymouth the custom of giving thanks in the late fall quickly spread to the other colonies, eventually leading to the governors of each of the colonies proclaiming an annual day of giving thanks. For instance, Thanksgiving was first observed in Connecticut, as early as 1639 and annually in the state after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.
During the Revolutionary War, “eight special days of giving thanks were observed after signal victories or wonderful deliverances from danger,” according to the classic 1917 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia.
The United States Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days of the year, except in 1777, each time recommending to the governors of the several states that they proclaim observances of days for giving thanks, according to the classic Encyclopedia Britannica.
President George Washington issued a general proclamation and appointed a day of thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26, 1789, and appointed another day of giving thanks in November 1795.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in America announced the first Thursday in November 1789 as a regular annual day for giving thanks, “unless another day be appointed by the civil authorities,” according to the classic World Book Encyclopedia. Later, the Roman Catholic Church formally recognized Thanksgiving Day in 1888.
President James Madison, in response to resolutions of Congress, established a day of thanksgiving at the close of the War of 1812.
A day of thanksgiving was annually appointed by the governor of New York from 1817.
In the several states of the south, there was fierce opposition to establishing a day for giving thanks, because it was then-believed to be propaganda of Puritanic bigotry.
Mrs. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, “Mother of Thanksgiving“
One woman, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (born in Newport, New Hampshire on October 24, 1788, and died on April 30, 1879), was the editor of her journal Godey’s Lady’s Book (1844).
Photo Credit: Journal Cover of “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” No. 738, Volume CXXIII, December 1891.
She led a twenty year campaign in her journal and actually wrote letters to each of the serving Presidents inside the White House during these twenty years to urge them to officially issue a federal proclamation for a day of giving thanks in the United States.
“Mrs. Hale’s advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful,” according to Wikipedia. “In support of the proposed national holiday, Hale wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln.”
Be that as it may, by 1858, Mrs. Hale efforts began to bear fruit, as governors of 25 states and two territories each eventually proclaimed annually an official day of thanksgiving.
Her initial letters failed to persuade, but her September 28, 1863 letter she wrote in Philadelphia to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.
The following is an excerpt of Mrs. Hale’s Letter (pictured above) to President Lincoln:
“Private, Philadelphia, September 28, 1863
Honorable Abraham Lincoln – President of the United States
Permit me, as editress of “Lady’s Book,” to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and as I trust even to the President of our Republic of some importance. The subject is to have a day of our autumn – a Thanksgiving – made a national and fixed Union Festival.
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.
Enclosed are three proposals being printed, these are easily read, which make the idea and its program clear, and show also the popularity of the plan.
For the last fifteen years, I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book” and placed the proposals before the Governors of all the States and Territories. Also, I have sent these [proposals] to our Ministers abroad … and commanders in the Army. From the recipients I have received uniformly the most kind approvals …”
Photo Credit: President Abraham Lincoln signing the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, November 1863, see President Lincoln’s 1863 clemency.
Finally, Mrs. Hale’s official Thanksgiving Holiday campaign saw daylight during the Civil War of the States, “in 1863, a year filled with pivotal historical events – the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union Army victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the Gettysburg Address – President Abraham Lincoln issued what has become known as the first Thanksgiving Proclamation.”
Photo Credit: President Abraham Lincoln (left) signatory of the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1863; Mrs. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (right), “Mother of Thanksgiving”
President Abraham Lincoln 151 years ago established the fourth Thursday of November 1864 and annually thereafter for an observance of Thanksgiving Day by federal proclamation of the president and of the governors of the several states of the union.
Upon President Lincoln’s proclamation, it was thus Mrs. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale who is now known as our “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
Photo Credit: An annual presidential tradition in observance of the Thanksgiving Day Holiday Season, President Lyndon Baines Johnson pardons “Tom Turkey” presented by then-Senator Everett Dirksen at The White House on November 16, 1967.
On the Annual Tradition of Presidential Pardoning of “Tom Turkey”
Since then, every president has held to President Lincoln’s tradition of proclaiming this day of giving thanks for the blessing bestowed upon of our nation. The Presidents annually make a formal announcement, and the governors of the several states issue proclamations recognizing the legislative act, calling on the people to give thanks.
“It is often stated that President Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey recorded in an 1865 dispatch by White House reporter Noah Brooks was the origin for the pardoning ceremony.” By annually pardoning “Tom Turkey” during an official White House event, since December 1948, “President Harry S. Truman accepted two turkeys and remarked that they would “come in handy” for Christmas dinner. There was clearly no plan for these birds to receive a presidential pardon, [because the chosen birds ended up served on the table at the official Thanksgiving Day Feast at The White House].
The Washington Post used both “pardon” and “reprieve” in a 1963 article in which President John F. Kennedy said [on November 19, 1963 during his final pardoning ceremony below just a few days before his assassination] of the turkey, “Let’s keep him going,” according to The White House Historical Association.
Afterwards, President Kennedy requested the turkey he “pardoned” and “reprieved” returned back to the farm to live out the rest of the bird’s life.
“It wasn’t until 1987 that President Ronald Reagan introduced the idea of “pardoning” a bird for the first time. President George H. W. Bush would cement the tradition in 1989, and every year since then, turkeys presented to the president have been allowed to live out their natural lives,” according to the National Journal, which displays official photos of each presidential pardon of “Tom Turkey” from Truman to Obama.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
“For all that God in mercy sends, For health and strength, For home and friends, For comfort in the time of need, For every kindly word and deed, For happy thoughts and pleasant talk, For guidance in our daily walk, For all these things,
“For beauty in this world of ours, For verdant grass and lovely flowers, For song of birds, For hum of bees, For the refreshing summer breeze, For hill and plain, For streams and wood, For the great ocean’s mighty flood, For all these things,
“For the sweet sleep that comes with night, For the returning morning’s light, For the bright sun which shines on high, For stars that glitter in the sky, For these and everything we see,
“O’ Lord, our hearts we lift to thee.
“And Give Thee Hearty Thanks.”
– Ellen Isabella Tupper (1930)
And Please Stay Safe in Your Travels!
Thanksgiving Holiday Travel 2015 By The Numbers [cf. AAA Travel Forecast]
According to AAA, 46.9 million travelers will primarily take to the highways (with 89.3 percent traveling 50 miles or more), or secondarily to the air (with 7.7 percent traveling via commercial domestic airlines) to be with their friends and loved ones for Thanksgivings 2015.
This 46.9 million total travelers in 2015 amounts to a 300,000 increase over the 46.6 million travelers observed for Thanksgiving 2014.
Since the slightly higher 47.6 million travelers seen in 2006, the annual fall holiday travel peaked at 50.6 million people in Thanksgiving 2007, before a huge drop to 37.8 million people traveling for Thanksgiving 2008 and 37.9 million people transporting for Thanksgiving 2009.
These sudden drops in Thanksgiving holiday travel was a result of the deep economic crunch on consumers from the Wall Street financial crisis and recession of 2007-2009. The slow economic recovery back from this rough economic period for Thanksgiving 2015 is clearly shown by consumers having more disposable cash-on-hand for taking to the highways and airways for Thanksgivings 2010 (at 40.9 million travelers), 2011 (at 43.3 million travelers), 2012 (at 44 million travelers), and 2013 (at 44.4 million travelers).
Sources: F. B. Hough, Proclamations of Thanksgiving (Albany 1958); W.D. Love, The Past and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston 1895); May Lowe, “Thanksgiving Day” in New England Magazine (November 1904); C.L. Norton, “Thanksgiving Day – Past and Present” in the Magazine of American History (December 1885); R.M. Schauffler (ed.), Thanksgiving (New York 1907).
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