November 26, 1863: Abraham Lincoln Proclaims Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 1863: Abraham Lincoln Proclaims Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 1863: Abraham Lincoln Proclaims Thanksgiving Day

“Thanksgiving Day has not a genuine ring. Somehow it sounds ill-suited to the times.”


Forget the Pilgrims, forget Plymouth Rock, forget Squanto: The real origin of modern Thanksgiving, as with so much else of goodness in our national tradition, comes directly from the pen of Abraham Lincoln, who declared that this day in 1863—the last Thursday in November—be set aside for the giving of thanks. There had, of course, been many thanksgivings declared before, but not until Lincoln’s proclamation was a specific day finally fixed it. With the exception of a few years under the reign of Franklin Roosevelt—who moved it up a week to allow Americans more time to try to shop themselves out of the Depression—on the last Thursday it has since remained.

The most interesting piece about Thanksgiving in The Nation’s archives is this brief item from the recurring “In the Driftway” column (always written by a pseudonymous “Drifter”), from November 1931, criticizing President Herbert Hoover’s Thanksgiving Day message for its over-inflated ebullience about how much Americans really had to be thankful for during those miserable years.

With the third winter of widespread unemployment nearly upon us, in all its ugliness, want, and distress, Thanksgiving Day has not a genuine ring. Somehow it sounds ill-suited to the times. The President’s counsel that “our people rest from their daily labors” brings to the Drifter’s mind some ten million jobless to whom that advice will seem more than slightly ironical. And he wonders how many of that army stopped work on Thanksgiving Day in 1929, not realizing that they would still be resting two years later. Will they be duly appreciative, as the President is, that “the passing adversity which has come upon us” is a “spiritual” blessing?

November 26, 1980

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy