Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Hale's Letter to Abraham Lincoln Requesting a Thanksgiving Holiday

Sarah Josepha Hale, a poet and novelist, served as editor of Godey's Ladies' Magazine (later called the Lady's Book) from 1828 until 1877, during which time she made it the most influential periodical for women. Sarah Hale is hailed the Mother of the American Thanksgiving due to her long campaign to get Thanksgiving accepted as a national holiday in the United States. As a result of a letter she penned to President Abraham Lincoln when she was 74 years of age, he issued a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the fourth Tuesday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

From Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln

Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.


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 fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution. Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the "Lady's Book", and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories -- also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen -- and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan2 are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid -- that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; -- or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject 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.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured. An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.

Excuse the liberty I have taken
With profound respect
Yrs truly
Sarah Josepha Hale,
Editress of the "Ladys Book"


Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln

Thanksgiving Proclamation by George Washington

EXTRA: On my Something Olde Blog -
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott

Have you ever written a letter of influence?  How are you spending your Thanksgiving?


  1. Fun and inspiring to read, Carla. I forget the origins sometimes! How differently we write today. Sigh. I'll be spending the day quietly with the boys and Randy, cooking a 20 lb bird so there will be plenty of leftovers, and celebrating Wyatt's birthday as he's my T-giving baby. We have a foot of new snow here and it sure makes for a festive holiday:)

  2. that is way cool! I've never known this!!


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