Why Did Abraham Lincoln Make Thanksgiving a Holiday Why Did Abraham Lincoln Make Thanksgiving a Holiday

Why Did Abraham Lincoln Make Thanksgiving a Holiday? 4 Most Significant Details About the Proclamation

If there’s one name that echoes prominently in the annals of American history, it’s that of Abraham Lincoln. Known as the 16th President of the United States, Lincoln left an indelible mark on the nation, not just through his leadership during the Civil War, but also through his instrumental role in the abolition of slavery.

Yet, amid his many political accomplishments, one often overlooked contribution is his role in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

In this blog post, we aim to shed light on Lincoln’s pivotal role in solidifying this tradition.

Why Did Abraham Lincoln Make Thanksgiving a Holiday?

Thanksgiving, as we know it today, is an occasion for family and friends to gather around a feast, expressing gratitude and reflecting on the blessings of the year.

However, the journey of this beloved holiday from its origins as a harvest festival to a nationally recognized celebration is a fascinating tale interwoven with the fabric of American history.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s embark on this intriguing journey together.

Abraham Lincoln
Source- Shutterstock

1. The Historical Context of Thanksgiving

Let’s travel back in time to the origins of Thanksgiving.

Initially, it was not a national holiday that Americans all over the country celebrated together. Rather, it was a humble harvest festival.

The origins of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the Native Americans and Pilgrims who inhabited the New England region. They held feasts to celebrate the bountiful harvests, a tradition deeply rooted in indigenous cultures.

The first recorded Thanksgiving feast occurred in 1621 when the Plymouth Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest celebration. This three-day event, filled with food, games, and mutual camaraderie, laid the foundation for future Thanksgiving celebrations.

However, it wasn’t until much later that these regional festivities evolved into a recognized holiday across states.

Thanksgiving Becomes a Recognized Holiday

Contrary to what one might assume, Thanksgiving did not become an instant nationwide sensation following the initial 1621 feast.

Instead, it was celebrated intermittently and varied greatly from state to state. Some states observed a day of thanksgiving yearly, while others did not recognize it at all.

It was George Washington who, during his presidency, proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration on November 26, 1789. Yet, even this did not firmly establish Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday.

By the mid-19th century, Thanksgiving had become a beloved tradition in many parts of the country, particularly in New England. S

Sarah Josepha Hale, a notable magazine editor, played a significant role in advocating for Thanksgiving to be recognized as a national holiday. She wrote numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians.

The Cultural Significance of Thanksgiving in Mid-19th Century America

By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, Thanksgiving had deeply ingrained itself into the fabric of American society.

Despite being celebrated on different dates in various states, it held a profound cultural significance. It was more than just a feast; it was an occasion for families to gather together, express gratitude, and share in the nation’s collective history and values.

However, the United States was on the brink of a great divide during the mid-19th century. The Civil War loomed large, threatening to tear the nation apart.

In this chaotic period, the need for unity and a sense of national identity was greater than ever.

2. Abraham Lincoln’s Role in Establishing Thanksgiving

As we delve deeper into the pivotal role of Abraham Lincoln in the establishment of Thanksgiving, we encounter a critical juncture in American history.

In 1863, while the nation was embroiled in the throes of the Civil War, Lincoln made a bold and momentous decision. He issued a proclamation that officially established Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Thanksgiving day
Source- Shutterstock

This move was not only audacious given the tumultuous times but also demonstrated Lincoln’s deep understanding of the power of shared traditions in fostering unity.

What Motivated Lincoln to Make Such a Move?

The answer lies in his vision of a united America. Amidst the chaos and division caused by the Civil War, Lincoln sought ways to encourage cohesion and national solidarity.

Thanksgiving, with its origins in communal harmony and shared gratitude, presented an ideal opportunity.

  • By establishing it as a national holiday, Lincoln aimed to instill a sense of shared heritage and collective identity among the war-torn citizenry.
  • His goal was not merely to create a day of feasting, but rather, to emphasize the values of gratitude, unity, and mutual respect among all Americans, regardless of their socio-political affiliations.

Impact of Thanksgiving Proclamation

The impact of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation on the recognition and celebration of the holiday was profound. It effectively transformed a regional tradition into a national symbol of unity and gratitude.

  • While individual states had previously recognized and celebrated Thanksgiving in their ways, Lincoln’s proclamation gave the holiday a nationwide significance.
  • It became a day when people across the United States could put aside their differences and come together to express their shared gratitude for the blessings of the year.

In essence, Lincoln’s decision to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday played a crucial role in shaping American culture and identity. It served to unify the country during one of its darkest hours and laid the foundation for a tradition that continues to bring Americans together, year after year.

3. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Delving deeper into the heart of this historical event, the content and language of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation provide an insightful glimpse of his intentions and the sociopolitical climate of the era.

The proclamation, issued on October 3, 1863, was much more than a simple declaration of a national holiday. It was a call to unity, a beacon of hope, and a testament to resilience in the face of adversity.

Analyzing the Proclamation’s Content and Language

The language used by Lincoln in his proclamation is both eloquent and profound. He urges his fellow countrymen to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

This evocative phrasing imbues the proclamation with a sense of solemn reverence, underscoring the spiritual roots of the Thanksgiving tradition.

The content of the proclamation reveals Lincoln’s astute understanding of the nation’s mood. Amid the Civil War, he recognized the need for a symbol of unity and shared gratitude.

His decision to frame Thanksgiving as such a symbol is a testament to his skillful leadership and his deep empathy for the American people.

Themes of Unity, Gratitude, and National Healing

Amid a nation divided by war, Lincoln emphasized themes of unity, gratitude, and national healing in his proclamation.

  • His words served to remind Americans of their shared blessings and common heritage, encouraging them to set aside their differences and come together as one nation.
  • His message of gratitude and unity still resonates today, reminding us of the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
  • To further emphasize the theme of national healing, Lincoln implored his fellow citizens to care for those who had been wounded in the war and to mourn those who had lost their lives.

This compassionate plea serves as a reminder of the human cost of conflict, making Lincoln’s call for unity all the more poignant.

4. Legacy and Impact of Lincoln’s Contribution

Having examined Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in-depth, it’s time to turn our attention to the aftermath. What were the immediate and long-term effects of establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday? And how has the observance of this day evolved?

The Immediate and Long-Term Effects

In the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, Thanksgiving was embraced by a nation embroiled in civil discord.

The call for a unified day of gratitude provided a unique opportunity for citizens of all backgrounds and beliefs to pause and express their thanks amidst the turbulence of war. This unity, even if only temporary, was an initial effect of Lincoln’s proclamation that cannot be understated.

Over time, the practice of observing Thanksgiving became ingrained in American culture, its significance extending beyond the original context of the Civil War era.

In the years following Lincoln’s proclamation, Thanksgiving was celebrated with increasing enthusiasm and regularity. By the late 19th century, it had become a cherished annual tradition, marked by feasts, parades, and, of course, expressions of gratitude.

Thanksgiving: An Integral Part of American Culture

Thanks giving day
Source- Depositphotos

As we fast forward to the present day, it’s clear that Thanksgiving has become a cornerstone of American culture.

From the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the highly anticipated football games, and from the elaborate turkey dinners to the start of the holiday shopping season, the fourth Thursday in November is a day like no other.

It is a day for Americans to come together with family and friends, to share in a meal, and to express their thanks for the blessings they have received.

This enduring spirit of Thanksgiving, deeply tied to its origins and Lincoln’s proclamation, is a testament to its enduring relevance and significance in American society.

The Lasting Impact of Lincoln’s Contribution

Abraham Lincoln’s role in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday was not just a singular act, but a contribution that continues to shape the way Americans celebrate this unique day.

His call for unity and gratitude amid strife resonates even today, reminding us of the power of thankfulness and community.

The continued observance of Thanksgiving more than 150 years after Lincoln’s proclamation speaks volumes about its lasting impact.

Lincoln’s vision of a united nation, pausing to give thanks despite its struggles, remains a grounding principle of Thanksgiving. His contribution ensures that every year, Americans across the country pause to appreciate their blessings, reflect on their history, and look forward to the future with hope and resilience.


As we draw this journey to a close, it’s crucial to revisit the highlights of our exploration into the roots of Thanksgiving and the significant role of Abraham Lincoln in its establishment.

We’ve journeyed from the very origins of Thanksgiving as a harvest festival celebrated by Native Americans and Pilgrims, through its recognition as a holiday in individual states, to its cultural importance in mid-19th century America.

Abraham Lincoln’s part in shaping this history cannot be understated. His proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863 was not just an official recognition of the holiday, but a profound statement of unity and gratitude amid the turmoil of the Civil War.

The themes of unity, gratitude, and national healing found in Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation continue to resonate with us today, reminding us of the enduring power of shared values and communal celebration.

The essence of gratitude and unity that Lincoln envisioned continues to shape how we celebrate this unique day, demonstrating the lasting impact of his contribution.