Here at Gryphon Editions, we feel very strongly about the importance of telling stories. They are the most natural way in which we interpret the world, and the individual tales of our lives are the very lines that compose the tremendous story of the whole human family.
Looking forward to Thanksgiving, what better way to honor the holiday than by telling the historical narrative of how it first began.
The year is 1789. The Revolutionary War and drafting of the Constitution is still fresh in everyone’s memory. Our first President takes the stage in his usual dignified manner. He is there to relay an important message from the legislators to the American public:
Both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’
The day set aside was November 26th, and for all posterity, the final Thursday of November. This precedent was carried forth by the subsequent presidents until Jefferson, believing that publicly offering thanks to the Creator offended the sharp divide between church and state, declined to continue the habit. It slowly faded away from the memory of the public.
Now, fast forwarding to the 1860s, we discover a lesser-known part of the narrative with the character of Sarah Josepha Hale at the foreground. Hale was the prominent editor of the “Godey’s Lady Book” magazine, a strong spokeswoman for women’s education, and a fervent advocate for establishing a national holiday to give thanks. Her distinct passion for unifying the nation under this official holiday came at an important time, as the country was flung again into war– this time, brother against brother through the horrors of the Civil War. Hale wrote convincing letters to both Abraham Lincoln and the Secretary of State William Seward, eloquently pressing them to formally declare a day of thanksgiving as a perpetual American custom. Her noble efforts would not be in vain.
Finally, perhaps the most familiar portion of the story, on October 3rd, 1863, Abraham Lincoln established the national holiday of Thanksgiving set for the last Thursday of each November. His eloquent proclamation:
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.
Today, we conclude our story with the original words of George Washington, harkening back to the timeless truth that human flourishing is intrinsically tied to our power to choose thankfulness:
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
The secrets of our great nation lie in that single sentence.