The name Sarah Josepha Hale may not sound familiar to most Americans, but she played an integral role in today’s holiday. A tireless advocate of education for girls and women in 19th century America, she worked as a writer and editor in order to support her five children after her husband David Hale, a lawyer, died of a stroke in 1822.
In 1830 she penned a book of poetry called Poems for our Children. One of the poems was titled, “Mary’s Lamb,” which later became known as “Mary’s Little Lamb.”
Mrs. Hale worked as a writer and editor for a single magazine for 40 years. As writer and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book she had been advocating and writing our nation’s leaders for years to set aside a single day for America to count its blessings.
She had even written five previous U.S. presidents with her suggestion, but it had always fallen on deaf ears. On September 28, 1863 the determined editor wrote yet another letter to President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward advocating the country observe a single day as a day of prayer and thankfulness.
Here in part is what she said:
Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive (sic) fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
Historians have recorded that according to an 1864 letter from Lincoln secretary John Nicolay, the proclamation the nation’s 16th president delivered on Oct 3, 1863 was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward and sold one year later to support Union troops in the Civil War.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household.
It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards.
Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.
And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
Today we live in divisive times. Many political observers have speculated that America is more divided today than at anytime since the Civil War.
This Thanksgiving Day as millions of families gather together across the country, my prayer is that we can peacefully put aside our differences, humble ourselves before God as one people, and petition Him in prayer for a return of peace, unity and harmony for our country.
God bless, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Sources: biography.com, abrahamlincolnonline.org, shestokas.com
Photo source: commonamericanjournal.com,media1.britannica.com, si.wsj.net
Copyright 2017, Dean A. George©