First proclamation issued during depths of American Civil War

Last week we observed the 150th anniversary of an address by President Abraham Lincoln. This week we will observe the 150th anniversary of what happened as the result of a proclamation the same fall.

The two have more in common than you might think.

Last week’s was, of course, the Gettysburg Address which, along with the Declaration of Independence and Constitution compose what might be called the “Holy Trinity” of this nation’s founding documents.

It was delivered on Nov. 19, 1863. Six weeks previously, on Oct. 3, 1863, the same president signed a different kind of proclamation, not on a former battlefield, but in the quiet of an office.

From the time of Washington, Americans had observed thanksgivings. But they’d been done at different times, and in different ways, in the different states.

The idea of a national day of Thanksgiving had its advocates and none was more ardent that a 74-year-old magazine editor named Sarah Hale. In her publication, Godey’s Ladies Book, she had been lobbying for just such a day. She wrote the president to ask if he would issue such a proclamation.

He agreed. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation is often cited and seldom read. If you read it with 1863 eyes a rational response would be to start impeachment proceedings against a president who, at first glance, doesn’t see reality.

It starts out talking about blessings of “fruitful fields” and “healthful skies” and “bounties which are so constantly enjoyed.”

It was a year of unprecedented slaughter. Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga claimed tens of thousands of lives. The war had two bloody years left.

Yet Lincoln was asking his country to give thanks. And he meant it. But he asked for more: “(we) fervently implore the imposition 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.”

He meant that too. Pretty good words for 1863.

Pretty good words for 2013.—M.B.

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