This Day in History: Lincoln Proclaims, ‘Turkey Day!’

October 3, 1863 – On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. The proclamation came in the midst of the Civil War. In his address, Lincoln chose to focus on the country’s prosperity:

Closeup of the text of Lincoln’s proclamation as published in the Evening Star.

“[T]he country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

His words throughout the address encourage unity during the Civil War.

Lincoln’s decision to make Thanksgiving Day a nationally recognized holiday was not out of the blue – editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale started a campaign in 1827 to establish the annual holiday. Hale wrote letters to politicians, including Presidents, and published letters and editorials in her quest.

Banner of the Evening Star, Oct. 5, 1863 edition.

The Evening Star, a Washington, D.C. newspaper, published the text of Lincoln’s proclamation on October 5, 1863, informing readers of the President’s announcement.

Lincoln’s proclamation as printed in the D.C. Evening Star.

Lincoln’s proclamation stands, as we still celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November – but there have been some changes to the holiday’s date. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday in November. The decision was so strongly opposed and derided that in 1941 Roosevelt reinstated the holiday’s original date.

View the American Antiquarian Society catalog record for the Evening Star here:

Read more about Sarah Josepha Hale and the history of Thanksgiving in this blog post by AAS graphic designer Jackie Penny:

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Ana Pietrewicz

Ana Pietrewicz is the Library Digitization Assistant at AAS.

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