NOVEMBER 24, 1955
HYDE PARK—In a little religious magazine the other day I came across some information about the background of our American Thanksgiving Day, and I think it is interesting for all of us to have some of this information before us.
There are five people who had much to do with the establishment of this day. They are: "Governor Bradford, the founder, representing the Colonial era: Pres. Washington, first executive to proclaim a national observance of the day; Pres. Madison, for his revival of the institution; Mrs. Hale, for her life-long efforts on behalf of a specific date; and Pres. Lincoln, who established by his proclamation of 1863 the first annual Thanksgiving Day."
Gov. William Bradford of the Plymouth colony called together the early settlers in the year 1621 at Plymouth. They thanked God for being alive and for having food and clothing for the year. No specific day was set at that time. But from time to time Gov. Bradford, who was a man of religious conviction, called his people together for these purposes.
During the Revolutionary War, days of fasting and prayer were recommended by Congress and at the end of the war President Washington issued a proclamation in which he named Thursday, November 26, as a day for the citizens of the new nation "to thank God for a Constitutional form of government and the blessings that accompanied it."
No further mention is made of Thanksgiving Day until 1815 when President Madison revived it on a national scale. He urged the people to offer thanks on a day set apart by proclamation, which came at the close of the war with England and, therefore, was considered a season for prayer and praise for national guidance and peace.
Then for nearly 50 years there were no more national proclamations, though governors of states occasionally set apart certain days for the observance of a feast of thanksgiving.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a New England woman, worked for 20 years to have a national fall festival established, emphasizing that "Thanksgiving Day is the national pledge of Christian faith... The observance of the day has been gradually extended and for a few years past efforts have been made to have a fixed day which will be universally observed throughout the country... The last Thursday in November was selected on the whole as the day most appropriate."
This didn't actually become, however, an annual fixed day until President Lincoln issued his Presidential proclamation in 1863. Before that he had asked for "public prayer, humiliation and fasting" at different times throughout the year, but the Thanksgiving festival has been observed nationally ever since 1863.
It is good, I think, to have one day on which to count our blessings and to rejoice in the good things that have come to our land and to us as citizens of this land. Let us hope that we will always have as much to be thankful for as we have on this Thanksgiving Day of 1955.