I was very interested to read the “Thanksgiving Proclamation” written by Abraham Lincoln in 1963, during the midst of the Civil War. My interest comes from a family history on the Confederate side of the Civil War and a respect for Abraham Lincoln as one of the most important presidents in American history. There were several questions posed just before the actual text in the excerpt provided and I thought it would appropriate to try and answer some of those questions about the text.

How does his beginning capture the audience’s sympathy?

Immediately, Lincoln appeals to the spiritual consciousness of his audience by reminding them of the routine blessings “of fruitful fields and healthful skies” that are often taken for granted and also other blessings “of so extraordinary a nature” that cannot be ignored by people insensible to a higher power. While most people would agree that it is important to be thankful for the blessings they have received, especially those common blessings often taken for granted, I find the tone of the introduction to be strange. It seems as if Lincoln is trying to paint a positive outlook and ignore the tragedy of war. Maybe that is his intention. Even so, imagining anyone from the Confederacy or even someone from the Union who has lost son, husband, or father reading this proclamation, I would expect more of an acknowledgement of the reality of war instead of an immediate declaration of “extraordinary” blessing. (To be fair, he does make such an acknowledgement later on in his proclamation when declaring the day of thanksgiving.)

Why does he believe that, despite the human “waste” of the war, the country may be permitted to “expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom”?

Lincoln declares that, despite diversions of resources from “peaceful industry” to the “national defense,” the civilian production is doing better than ever before and population has even steadily increased (outside of the battlefield, which is a notable exception to make). The increase in freedom in coming years would be due to the “augmented strength and vigor” of the nation.

What is his understanding of “the Most High God,” His relation to the United States, and “our sins”?

My interpretation is that Lincoln was implying that the war and internal conflict of the nation was due to the “sins” of accepting slavery for so long a time. He also believed that God was merciful and this belief strongly contributed to his optimism about the future.

Imagining yourself a Confederate auditor of this proclamation; would you be inclined to accept the invitation and recommendation Lincoln offers in the long fifth paragraph to “my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States”?

No, I would not. I have no disagreement with anything that Lincoln says in this proclamation, but the above phrase and the tone of the introduction would suggest an underlying agenda. It is no secret that Lincoln’s intent was to unify the nation that was divided, but the Confederates considered themselves a different nation. Therefore, this phrase creates a negative stigma to what Lincoln is trying to do and my reaction as a Confederate auditor would be to give thanks on another day not associated with the Union.

Is Lincoln’s case for “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father” still persuasive today?

Yes, I believe so. Although the religious climate today is much different today than it was 1863, even non-religious people can recognize the importance of being thankful for their possessions (tangible and intangible) and considering ways in which our nation can still be improved. It is common today for people on Thanksgiving to assist and serve those in need, which follows the spirit of what Lincoln established over 150 years ago and exhibits the deep-rooted legacy of the holiday Lincoln established.

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