President Cleveland Declares Thanksgiving

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It is fitting and proper that a nation thus favored should on one day in every year…publicly acknowledge the goodness of God and return thanks to Him for all His gracious gifts.

The holiday we know today as Thanksgiving was conceived by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the prominent magazine Godey’s Lady’s...

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President Cleveland Declares Thanksgiving

It is fitting and proper that a nation thus favored should on one day in every year…publicly acknowledge the goodness of God and return thanks to Him for all His gracious gifts.

The holiday we know today as Thanksgiving was conceived by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the prominent magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who engaged in a campaign over years to get Thanksgiving accepted as a national holiday in the United States. She recommended this to Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and on November 28, 1861, he signed a proclamation saying, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.” The next national Thanksgiving was declared by Lincoln in April 1862, and in 1863 he declared Thanksgivings for both August 6 and the last Thursday in November. He went on to declare a similar Thanksgiving observance in 1864, establishing a precedent that was followed by his successor, Andrew Johnson, who declared a Thanksgiving for December 7, 1865. Johnson gave government employees the day off, making the day a legal holiday. The precedent established by Lincoln has been adhered to by every subsequent president.

Document Signed, Washington, November 2, 1885. The President declares “It is fitting and proper that a nation thus favored should on one day in every year…publicly acknowledge the goodness of God and return thanks to Him for all His gracious gifts. Therefore I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set apart Thursday the 26th of November instant as a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer, and do invoke the observance of the same by all the people of the land.” The document is countersigned by Secretary of State Thomas Bayard. Every president’s official Thanksgiving proclamation is, of course, in the National Archives. Along with these official proclamations, presidents have signed several additional copies to be distributed to officials. This is one of those copies and marks Cleveland’s first Thanksgiving proclamation in the White House.

In 1941, Congress enacted a law to fix the date of Thanksgiving at the fourth Thursday in November, and FDR signed it. Thus did Thanksgiving become an “official” national holiday.

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