We believe the first Thanksgiving proclamation was made by Governor Bradford of Massachusetts in 1623, just three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth.
"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
Ye Governor of Ye Colony
The first National Thanksgiving Proclamations were those issued by the Continental Congress between 1777 and 1784. From 1785 to 1788 there were no National Thanksgiving Proclamations. George Washington issued the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789.
THANKSGIVING DAY 1789
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - A PROCLAMATION
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to
obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and
favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested
me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and
prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of
Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form
of government for their safety and happiness."
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to
be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being,
who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we
may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind
care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation –
for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence,
which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree
of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and
rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of
government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately
instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we
have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and
various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications
to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and
other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform
our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national
government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just,
and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and
guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us)
and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the
knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among
them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal
prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our
Lord 1789. GO. WASHINGTON.
The annual practice continued, by the government, to issue proclamations for a day of Thanksgiving. However, during the Civil War, in 1862 and 1863, President Lincoln tended to give thanks for victories in battle. Confederate President Davis also became involved after the Civil War began. In 1861, his proclamation issued a "Day of Fasting and Humiliation"
A DAY OF FASTING & HUMILIATION (NOT THANKSGIVING!) 1861
by JEFFERSON DAVIS, PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES
WHEREAS, it hath pleased almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend
us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.
And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but
unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and
trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of
our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.
Now therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in view of impending
conflict, do hereby set apart Friday, the 15th day of November, as a day of national humiliation and
prayer, and do hereby invite the reverend clergy and the people of these Confederate States to
repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of
almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes
and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.
Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31st day of October,
year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.
By the President, Jefferson Davis.
Issued by the departments of the Federal Government, employees would be given the day off. Not just the President, but Governors of the individual states would also issue their own proclamations and wishes. However, the states would declare one date and the President would declare another. There was much confusion and families could not celebrate together because of these inconsistencies.
There were regular requests to the Government to set a firm date for the entire country to celebrate. One woman in particular is credited for finally getting through to the President of United States to set one date for the holiday.
"day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "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 authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."
In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately. Lincoln's upcoming Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 puts in place our first National Thanksgiving. The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise. Please listen to what he had to say.
A few years later, after the assassination of President Lincoln, President Johnson carried on the tradition. In 1867. Johnson contends in his speech that the rebuilding of the country after the war is progressing. He also asks the country to move past the horrors of the war and to forgive. However, the scars of the war were still deep. The citizens of the south did not agree with the rosy picture Johnson described.
After Thanksgiving became a National Holiday, and the healing finally began, the fourth Thursday of November would evolve over time as we, the citizens of the United States would evolve. It once began as a day of celebrating the harvest, progressed into a religious holiday and then into our civil holiday.
By the early 1900's, the holiday could now include all branches of the family tree, since everyone celebrated on the same day. Family and loved ones now became the holiday's focus. As families gathered, more time was spent around the dinner table and the food was a large part of that. Much time was spent preparing old and treasured family recipes, passing on culinary traditions to the younger generations. In preparation of the holiday, families would save their money and store their valuable pantry items for months in advance. (The future wars ensured that this became a necessity.) The fine china would be set out, the silver would be polished, and the cooking would begin weeks in advance.