Many are quite familiar with President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of October, 1863. However, few have read or heard of his similar proclamation from a few month’s prior which helped build the foundation for his famous October proclamation. The Star of the West, July 25, 1863 contains the text (see images below) of this earlier declaration calling for a day of thanksgiving and prayer – words which are apropos as we prepare (in the U.S.) to celebrate Thanksgiving. Note: We’ve included the text of this famous proclamation below.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards 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 theatre of military conflict; while that theatre 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 plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe 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 battle-field; 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 it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes 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 Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
I’ve always enjoyed reading the editorial on page 2 of the “Richmond Examiner” newspaper, as the bias shown by the writer was often strongly in favor of the Confederate cause. But in the issue of July 25, 1863 the editor stretched his optimist about as far as it could reach. With the Confederate failure at Gettysburg and their advance into the North stopped, all might have seemed hopeless for the Confederate forces. But the editor tried to put a positive spin on the events by stating:
“…failed by a single accident, by a single mistake–that sad one at Gettysburg…But after all, the depression which its failure produced on the public mind was more than was warrantable. The result was not a defeat, it was not a loss; it was only not a victory, not one of the most brilliant triumphs ever recorded. It was little else than a disappointment of extraordinary expectations…”.
The “”Southern Illustrated News” was a somewhat failed attempt by the Confederacy to bring to its citizens an illustrated newspaper similar to “Harper’s Weekly” and “Leslie’s Illustrated“. Although the presumed feature of the Dec. 5, 1863 issue was the front page engraving & biography of Captain William Downs Farley, time caused several innocuous items on the back page to intrigue the historical collector.
The back page has several reports which bring together many of the names involved in the Lincoln assassination that would happen more than a year in the future. Under the theatrical reports is mention that: “…Laura Keene, Mr. & Mrs. Charles Walcott…lately formed an alliance known as ‘Laura Keen’s Combination & have been traveling through the Northern States…On Monday last huge posters were put out announcing the ‘American Cousin’ with Charles Walcott in one of the principal parts…” Remember that Laura Keene starred in “Our American Cousin”, the performance at Ford’s Theatre the evening of the assassination. Also on the back page: “Edwin Booth is playing in Boston supported by Mrs. Anna Cornell & Mr. Marshall.” He was the brother of John Wilkes Booth. Even his name is here, performing at Ford’s Theatre no less: “The present week is announced as the last of J. Wilkes Booth…at Ford’s New Theatre, Washington, D.C.” And a bit further on is even mention of the President: “…preparatory to his appearance at Richmond in the character of one of President Lincoln’s special peace envoys as already announced…” (see). This single page brings together the names Laura Keene, the play “Our American Cousin”, John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln, and Ford’s Theatre, an almost eerie coincidence, particularly for a Confederate newspaper.
We continue our weekly feature of reflecting upon the appropriate 150 year old issue of “Harper’s Weekly” from the perspective of a subscriber in 1861:
“The daily papers today give evidence of what everyone feared: war has begun. Events in Charleston harbor reached a breaking point as both the North and the South claimed the military installations there. But our “Harper’s Weekly” is about two weeks late with reports which I understand is due to the complexity of providing accurate illustrations of the events, certainly a small price to pay for the great benefit of “seeing” the war scenes. I look forward to the end of the month and seeing just what transpired at Charleston.
In the meantime today’s issue has a scene of Point Isabel, Texas, a town apparently on a cliff along the Gulf of Mexico. In the foreground troops are being transported on a paddle-wheeler. Near the back are two military scenes including a boat house at Fort Pickens, Florida, and another the inside of that fort. The cannons they use are huge and the fort’s thick walls seem impenetrable. I had not previously known what the inside of a fort looked like.
I recognize President Lincoln in one of the back page cartoons, his face and stature familiar from an earlier issue on his inauguration. In this cartoon he consults with “Columbia”, who says: “…be sure you’re right, then go ahead!” Yes, our future is in his hands.” With all of the tension in the air, I was surprised to see the double-page centerfold which included various vignettes of American Home Scenes, which seemed in stark contrast to the mood of the day.
To enjoy the images (and some of the text) from this issue, please go to: Harper’s Weekly, April 13, 1861