As we gather with friends and family around tables topped with turkey and pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, we feast and give thanks in seemingly uncivil times. Last month Georgetown University’s Battleground Civility poll warned us that “the average voter believes the U.S. is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war.”
Though Thanksgiving and civil war don’t seem to go together, the timing of our annual Thanksgiving tradition was actually born during America’s Civil War.
When President Lincoln called on “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States” to give thanks “with one heart and voice by the whole American people,” on Oct. 3, 1863, he received immediate pushback in the polarized press.
Newspapers in the South went to war against Thanksgiving.
“King Abraham has issued a proclamation appointing the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer in Yankeedom,” South Carolina’s Charleston Courier clamored on Oct. 12.
Georgia’s Augusta Chronicle went further on Oct. 15 by accusing the long-winded Lincoln of fake news. “The document is on par with the rest of the productions that have been sent out from Washington. Bombastic in tone and full of false statements. In a Thanksgiving proclamation one would suppose that Lincoln would tell the truth, but he has not.”
Still another newspaper opposed Lincoln’s attempt to usurp state holidays for a united national one. Up until then, governors in each state had set aside different days for Thanksgiving, which was confusing.
“Now Lincoln comes out this year with an appointment of his own in November, in order to supersede state appointments and teach the people to look to the federal government for holidays as well as everything else,” Georgia’s Macon Telegraph railed on Oct. 14 against this “darling scheme of the Lincolnites.”
They predicted that: “A Grand National Thanksgiving is hereafter to supersede the state Thanksgivings. To get rid of the states in every possible attribute of government is an absorbing idea with the Lincoln administration.”