Thanks to “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s new movie about America’s 16th president, Americans are getting a big reminder about Abraham Lincoln’s contributions to our national life.
This week’s observance of Thanksgiving should be an occasion to remember Lincoln’s role in creating that national holiday.
For years before Lincoln took office, magazine editor Sarah J. Hale had campaigned to establish Thanksgiving as a regular, nationally observed holiday. Inspired by the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast, Americans had observed various days of gratitude over the years, but the holiday hadn’t been declared an annual national event.
Lincoln finally obliged Hale’s request, issuing a proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863, establishing the observance of a national Thanksgiving Day in November. The Civil War was raging, but despite of — or perhaps because of — the nation’s troubles, Lincoln believed that a national day of gratitude was in order.
Here is how Lincoln opened his official proclamation establishing Thanksgiving Day:
“The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful yields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Lincoln then urged citizens to join in a common spirit of gratitude. His words seem just as timely this week, as Americans observe a holiday that Lincoln helped to advance.