How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday

Excerpt from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

They say, Mr. President, that we are stealing away the rights of the States. So I have come to-day to advise you, that there is another State right I think we ought to steal.” Raising his head from his pile of papers, Lincoln asked, “Well, Governor, what do you want to steal now?” Seward replied, “The right to name Thanksgiving Day!” He explained that at present, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different days at the discretion of each state’s governor. Why not make it a national holiday? Lincoln immediately responded that he supposed a president “had as good a right to thank God as a Governor.” Seward then presented Lincoln with a proclamation that invited citizens “in every part of the United States,” at sea, or abroad, “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November” to give thanks to “our beneficent Father.” The proclamation also commended to God’s care “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers,” and called on Him “to heal the wounds of the nation” and restore it to “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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