The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields 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 even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity....
Yes, in the midst of our United States Civil War, which, by the time it ended in April of 1865 killed over 620,000 people and injured or ruined the lives of so many more, Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to be held at the end of November. The actual proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward (a native of New York State who was also responsible for the purchase of the territory that, in the 20th century, became the state of Alaska.)
This was the start of the nationwide Thanksgiving tradition we still celebrate today.
Various states had been celebrating Thanksgiving as state holidays (and this continued during the early part of the Civil War, in both Union and Confederate states. But, a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and editor, had been trying for some 30 years to get Thanksgiving proclaimed as a national holiday.
She wrote Lincoln on September 28, 1863 as she had so many other Presidents, but this time the President listened. This proclamation was the response.
This is the full proclamation.
The amazing thing to me is, even in the midst of a terrible Civil War, we as a nation tried to look at what we had been blessed with.
The proclamation ended:
I wonder what the people of 1863 would think of our government shutdown, and the paralysis of Congress in our modern United States. One thing that has happened is that our national parks and monuments are shut down.And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
These parks and monuments are one way our nation keeps history alive. People from all over our country and yes, all over the world, visit our national parks and monuments to learn about our history, and to educate their children.
Many (not all) Civil War preserved battlefields are national parks. Not all Civil War sites are battlefields, either - this past August we visited the birthplace of George Washington Carver. Born a slave during the Civil War in a Union state that permitted slavery, Carver's story is a tremendous one - and it can't be told "in person" because the park (actually a "monument") that shows the story of his life is closed. So is the National Park Service website for this and all other Park Service sites.
So, the employees we visited with - they are all on furlough.
I have been to many national parks in my lifetime, and have never met a "front desk" or historical interpretation employee who isn't dedicated to his or her job. I have been amazed at the knowledge, and the passion, so many of them bring to their everyday interactions with visitors.
I am thankful for them all, and hope they can return to their important work soon.
Until then - let us not hesitate to give thanks to those important in our lives - and our loved ones. If the United States could do it in the midst of a Civil War, can we do less?