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Robert McNamara

Lincoln Made Thanksgiving a National Holiday

By November 19, 2012

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In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, a crusading female magazine editor wrote to President Abraham Lincoln urging him to make Thanksgiving an official holiday.

Throughout the early 1800s, the day had been celebrated in the Northeast, but local observances would fall on different days in various states. Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a very popular magazine of the day, campaigned for years to make the observance of Thanksgiving a national event.

After receiving a thoughtful letter from Hale, Lincoln saw the wisdom of a holiday that might unify a nation which had been split and was suffering the ravages of war.

And so he issued his Thanksgiving proclamation in early October 1863 which read, in part: "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."

Newspapers printed Lincoln's proclamation, and the northern states observed the first national day of Thanksgiving on November 26, 1863.

Sarah J. Hale, magazine editor who inspired Lincoln to issue his Thanksgiving proclamation/courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections

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