Give thanks for the lady who gave us Thanksgiving.
November 26, 2015
Caleb Pirtle III
SHE WAS a writer.
She was an editor.
She was a crusader.
And if Sarah Josepha Hale wanted something badly enough, she fought tooth and nail to get it.
You might ignore her.
You might turn your back on her.
You might try to forget her.
She wouldn’t let you.
Sarah Josepha Hale was always knocking at your door.
Don’t open it.
She would be back.
Sarah Josepha Hale was a lovely lady.
She wrote about beauty.
She wrote about fashion.
She wrote about culture.
Don’t underestimate her.
Sarah Josepha was a bulldog with a heart.
For three decades, she tried to persuade the President of the United States, whoever he might be, to declare a national day of Thanksgiving.
She wrote Presidents Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.
Her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Her letters were tossed aside.
She fought alone.
And she refused to quit.
When the dark days of a threatened Civil War stalked the nation, she hoped that a day of Thanksgiving might be instrumental in keeping the country she loved from breaking apart.
Hers was a good cause.
But it wasn’t an original idea.
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued proclamations for several days of thanks – but only for victories on the battlefield.
George Washington, in 1789, called for a national day of thanks to celebrate the end of the war and the ratification of the U. S. Constitution.
America gave thanks once, then promptly forgot it.
Now war was storming across the land.
States fought against each other.
Families fought against each other.
The ground was red with blood.
Sarah Josepha Hale wrote one editorial after another, pleading for the country to “put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and rally around the unifying cause of thanksgiving.
Her words were drowned out by the sound of gunfire.
There was no reason to give thanks in America.
There was only war.
And the air was thick with the pungent smell of gunpowder.
Then came peace.
Then came an uneasy silence.
Sarah Josepha Hale wrote President Lincoln: As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.
He read her letter and thought such an idea just might heal the wounds of a grieving and bloodied nation.
It was certainly worth a try.
Secretary of State William Seward wrote the proclamation.
Lincoln signed it.
America at the time only had two national holidays: Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.
Now it had a third.
So today, on the fourth Thursday in November, we gather with our families.
We remember those we love.
We remember those we lost.
We remember the Maker from whom all blessings flow.
We eat our turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce.
We watch football.
And, in our hearts, we give thanks.
And even in time of stress and unrest, we have so much to be thankful for.
When you bow your heads this year, pause a moment and whisper a word of thanks for Sarah Josepha Hale.
She made it possible.
Without her, families would be scattered, lunch would be fried baloney sandwiches, and we’d all be at work today.