Vol. 15 No. 45 – November 27, 2016
(October 24, 1788, Newport, NH – April 30, 1879, Philadelphia, Penn)
The Godmother of Thanksgiving
About a century and a half ago, brothers and sisters of our nation were deeply divided; torn between opposing ideologies in a bitter war. Sound familiar? As civil war ravaged our nation, one great patriot woman did not settle for the cold shoulder. She did not believe that her voice was too insignificant to matter. Sarah Josepha Hale, having a deep love for God and our new fledgling nation, persistently wrote letters before, during, and after the civil to establish a national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Now known as the godmother or mother of Thanksgiving, she is probably the one who deserves the most credit, other than our Lord, for our current day national Thanksgiving celebration. It had previously been celebrated only in New England, as establish by the first settlers from the Mayflower in Plymouth, MA. Yet, each state scheduled its own holiday, some as early as October and others as late as January; it was largely unknown in the American South. Her advocacy for the national holiday began in 1846 and lasted 17 years before it was successful. In support of the proposed national holiday, Hale wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. Before Thanksgiving’s addition, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.
Born in Newport, New Hampshire on Oct. 24, 1788, raised in the Episcopal church, she was blessed with a mother who homeschooled her. Sarah grew into an avid reader and writer. As a middle-aged woman, Sarah Josepha Hale wanted her countrymen to consider the blessings they had been given, even though the United States was far from united.
Embroiled in an ugly civil war between ideologies, angry words and various battles ended relationships between friends and family members. But, Sarah Josepha Hale recognized a truth that God had designed and given to the peoples of the United States of America a great country with tremendous freedoms and blessings. She could not sit back and stand idly by as the nation tore itself apart. She would not allow herself to feel helpless. She did not think her voice was too insignificant. She knew that her life and contributions mattered.
Do you know and feel that you make a difference inside of God’s Plan for your life?
A Woman Who Prepared Her Heart and Soul.
In Sarah’s day women were not allowed to attend college. She could have stopped formal learning, but she did not. Her brother shared his Dartmouth textbooks and Sarah’s self-education continued. She began writing poems and teaching. Then, Sarah married David Hale and began raising children; five in all. With the responsibilities of running a busy household, surely, she had plenty of reasons to stop reading, writing, and preparing her mind. Right?
Should a crazy schedule stop you from improving your own skill sets and spiritual knowledge?
Sarah and her husband remained on a regiment of learning. For two hours every evening, David taught Sarah reasoning, and they cherished the time together. He was indeed a smart man because, after he died of a stroke nine years into their marriage and two weeks after the couple’s fifth child was born, Sarah Josepha Hale was not left unprepared and helpless.
Are you prepared and positioned for the trials, tribulations, and disasters of future life events?
Undoubtedly she was devastated in 1822, but sometimes it is the worst in life that requires one to buck up and tackle challenges. Sarah knew how to write and was already stocked with a collection of poems she wrote before her husband’s death. So she took from her collections and began to writer other articles which were published, and then a second book followed in 1830. Her book “Poems for Our Children” was a tremendous hit with “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” as one of her most famous poems. It followed her wherever she went…
Hale wrote other books and later became the editor of two ladies’ magazines, The Lady’s Magazine, (Boston), from 1828-1836, and following the merger with Louis Godey’s “Lady’s Book,” (Philadelphia), she was the editor from 1837-1877. Steadily she wrote her way into prominence and used her position to improve life for families in America, not just her own family’s life. Under her guidance, Godey’s would become the most widely-read magazine of the 19th century and Sarah one of America’s most influential voices. For her day, she is considered to be a combination of Oprah and Martha Steward. She wrote many other novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes by the end of her life. She was respected as an arbiter of taste for middle-class women in matters of fashion, cooking, literature, and morality.
She believed that women shaped the morals of society, and pushed for women to write morally uplifting novels. She wrote that “while the ocean of political life is heaving and raging with the storm of partisan passions among the men of America… [women as] the true conservators of peace and good-will, should be careful to cultivate every gentle feeling.”
Are you influencing the future of your family? Of your country?
In one of her books called “Northwood,” describing New England character and manners, she gave the first detailed description to be found anywhere of the New England tradition of Thanksgiving saying:
“[It] is considered as an appropriate tribute of gratitude to God to set apart one day of Thanksgiving in each year; and autumn is the time when the overflowing garners of America call for this expression of joyful gratitude.”
Before writing to Lincoln regarding the establishment of a national holiday of Thanksgiving to the Lord, she wrote several articles supporting the New England styled Thanksgiving for the entire nation. She noted the importance of Thanksgiving’s religious connotations:
“THE FOURTH OF JULY is the exponent of independence and civil freedom. THANKSGIVING DAY is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging Him as the dispenser of blessings. These two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.” (1852)
In another article she wrote about Thanksgiving’s role in unifying a geographically far-flung nation:
“It would be better to have the day so fixed by the expression of public sentiment that no discord would be possible, but, from Maine to Mexico, from Plymouth Rock to Sunset Sea, the hymn of thanksgiving should be simultaneously raised, as the pledge of brotherhood in the enjoyment of God’s blessings during the year.” (1854)
As years passed, Sarah’s editorials emphasized ever more strongly the unifying role that Thanksgiving could play within an increasingly divided nation. In 1859, she wrote enthusiastically of the importance of the celebration. That year, 32 states and territories, plus the District of Columbia, celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.
Yet in 1861 the Civil War broke out. But she continued her efforts, as in her 1863 editorial:
“Would it not be of great advantage, socially, nationally, religiously, to have the DAY of our American Thanksgiving positively settled? Putting aside the sectional feelings and local incidents that might be urged by any single State or isolated Territory that desired to choose its own time, would it not be more noble, more truly American, to become nationally in unity when we offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year?”
Soon after, she wrote her now infamous letter to then President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 28, 1863, that led Lincoln to issue a proclamation that urged Americans to observe the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving.
Hale’s Historic Letter
She wrote the following excerpts to Lincoln on September 28, 1863 and by October 3, 1863 Lincoln agreed:
“Sir.– 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…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 Morgan 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 occurred 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.”
THANKSGIVING DAY 1863 by ABRAHAM LINCOLN
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – A PROCLAMATION
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. 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 and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore if, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”
Abraham Lincoln issued another Thanksgiving proclamation the following year, 1864. Sarah Josepha, now that she had achieved two proclamations, could introduce a becoming note of modesty:
“In our endeavors, which have been continued for many years, to secure the recognition of one day throughout the land as the Day of public Thanksgiving, we are conscious of not having in any manner gone beyond the proper limits of the sphere which we have prescribed for the Lady’s Book. It is the peculiar happiness of Thanksgiving Day that nothing political mingles in its observance. It is in its very nature a religious and domestic holiday. It belongs to the altar and the hearth, at which woman should ever be present; and the women of our country should take this day under their peculiar charge, and sanctify it to acts of piety, charity, and domestic love.”
The 1865 editorial was triumphal once again as Sarah wrote:
“President [Andrew] Johnson has a happier lot [than President Abraham Lincoln]. His voice can reach all American citizens. From East to West, from North to South, the whole country will be moved at his bidding; at home or abroad, on sea or land, the appointed day will be welcomed as the seal of national peace and the harbinger of national blessings. Thus our own ideal of an AMERICAN THANKSGIVING FESTIVAL will be realized, as we described it in 1860. The 30th of November, 1865, will bring the consummation. On that DAY our citizens, whether in their own pleasant homes, or in the distant regions of Oriental despotism, would observe it on board every ship where our flag floats there would be a day of gladness wherever our missionaries preach the Gospel of “goodwill to men,” the day would exemplify the joy of Christians; and in our Great Republic, from the St. John’s to the Rio Grande, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all our people, as one Brotherhood, will rejoice together, and give thanks to God for our National, State, and Family blessings.”
Sarah was not content to rest on her laurels for long. In 1871, she launched a further crusade – to have the national Thanksgiving Day proclaimed not by the President but by an act of Congress.
“It is eminently fit that this National Holiday shall rest upon the same legal basis as its companions, the Twenty-second of February and the Fourth of July. As things now stand, our Thanksgiving is exposed to the chances of the time. Unless the President or the Governor of the State in office happens to see fit, no day is appointed for its observance. Is not this a state of things which calls for instant remedy? Should not our festival be assured to us by law? We hope to see, before many months have elapsed, perhaps before our next Thanksgiving, the passage of an act by Congress appointing the last Thursday in November as a perpetual holiday, wherein the whole nation may unite in praise to Almighty God for his bounty and love, in rejoicing over the blessings of the year, in the union of families, and in acts of charity and kindness to the poor.”
By this time, however, Sarah’s energy and her influence were beginning to wane. She was 83 years old. Godey’s Lady’s Book was being overtaken by newer publications. Sarah’s insistence on not ruffling her readers’ feathers had resulted in a peculiar silence on the subject of the Civil War. Ultimately, it made Godey’s less relevant to the women of America. Nevertheless, Sarah continued to write Thanksgiving editorials until 1875. The joy of her later years was the discovery that one of her personal heroes, George Washington, had issued a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, for the last Thursday in November.
Sarah Josepha Hale died in 1879, at age 91.
Seventy years after the launch, in 1871, of Sarah’s second Crusade, to have the national Thanksgiving Day proclaimed not by the President but by an act of Congress, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed a bill establishing that Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November. On November 26, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill into law.
In the days before women could vote, how did she become so influential? Hale had prepared for years before finally winning her campaign for Thanksgiving.
Are you preparing to have influence today and in the future?
It is quite a story, isn’t it? This middle-aged woman from the war-torn 1800s, who was not allowed to attend college, whose husband died leaving her alone with five children, still managed to pull herself up by her faith and love for God and influence President Abraham Lincoln, of all people, to proclaim a holiday that you are about to enjoy, a century and a half later.
As scripture tells us, we are to give thanks to God continually, not just one day out of the year, for all that God has done for us, especially for our salvation in Christ Jesus.
1 Cor 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Eph 5:20, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
Phil 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Col 2:6-7, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with thanksgiving.”
Col 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Col 4:2, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.”
1 Thes 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Heb 13:15, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Thanksgiving is why the Lord Jesus Christ gave the Church the ordinance to commemorate His victory upon the Cross in Mat 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26.
If you would like more information on this subject, you may watch/listen to lesson:
A PERSONAL NOTE FOR YOU
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I am here to tell you that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His life for you. God the Father also loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you by sending Him to the Cross. At the Cross Jesus died in your place. Taking upon Himself all of your sins and all of my sins. He was judged for our sins and paid the price for our sins. Therefore, our sins will never be held against us. Right where you are, you now have the opportunity to make the greatest decision in your life.
To accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life by truly believing that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised on the third day as the proof of the promise of eternal life. So right now you can pause and reflect on what Christ has done for you and say to the Father:
“Yes Father, I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.”
If you have done that, I welcome you to the eternal Family of God!