It has been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln, mired deep in the horrors of the Civil War, declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday.
But 1863 wasnt a year in which much thankfulness could be found in the nation. The siege of Knoxville was underway in what was then the center of the country, and it had only been weeks since Lincolns address at the national cemetery at Gettysburg. War, death and destruction was on everyones mind.
But Lincoln summoned his courage and his oratory power to address the nation in what was already by then a tradition:?a Thanksgiving proclamation from the president.?In it, he found reasons to be grateful:?that the crack in the Union had not brought foreign powers to U.S. shores, and that it did in fact look as if the tide of the conflict was turning toward the North, and that despite the war, life goes on.
Lincoln wrote: 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 theatre of military conflict; while that theatre 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.
Today, there are new wars, and everyone sees the cracks in the union different in depth and cause. Yet it is gratefully obvious that despite our disagreements, we have not taken up arms upon one another.?This land is peaceful and prosperous and at tables all across it, families and friends will gather for a feast gargantuan in proportion and flavor. How full of thanksgiving can we be?