October 20, 1864: Abraham Lincoln proclaims Thanksgiving is a national holiday
Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is well-known, and even today he’s considered one of the greatest presidents. Many people know about his role in ending slavery, but most people don’t know that’s also responsible for Thanksgiving.
Lincoln feels grateful
It seems that 1863 was a particularly good year for Lincoln, and he was really feeling that year. This might be due to the fact that the previous two years were pretty bad for Lincoln. The Civil War kicked off in 1861, and the Union army suffered some staggering defeats in 1862. But things began to turn around in 1863. In fact, they were going so well Lincoln wanted to celebrate.
It was after Gettysburg that Lincoln was truly walking tall. The Union army had decisively won the battle, and it was pretty obvious that the Confederates had lost the entire war. When most people feel good, they have a party and invite their friends. But Lincoln was President… and he could do a lot more than that.
A holiday for all
After Gettysburg, Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of every November from then on would be a national day of Thanksgiving. It wasn’t actually a new idea, though. For Thanksgiving, Lincoln borrowed from another famous president: George Washington himself.
Also riding high on the success of a war, George Washington (who was a Revolutionary War hero) declared that the new nation of the United States should have a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789, his first year as president. Congress agreed and everyone partied, but the day didn’t become an annual event until Lincoln showed up almost a century later.
FDR makes a change
Until 1939, the entire nation celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Then, FDR changed it. FDR, who was president during the Great Depression, decided to boost the economy by giving people more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He moved Thanksgiving up a week to the third Thursday of the month.
Everyone hated it, though, and in 1941 Congress pressured FDR to change it back to the fourth Thursday. To this day, Abraham Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving proclamation stands, and the country celebrates food on every fourth Thursday in November.
So the next time you stuff yourself full of turkey and stuffing on a Thursday or eat a cold turkey sandwich on Friday, remember this: you have Abraham Lincoln to thank for it.