Whatever tends to strengthen the ties of kindred and friendship, or to promote offices of kindness and charity, claims the attention and favor of all good citizens; and among the very few usages which deserve the title of National Customs, our Thanksgiving festival may in this sense be ranked as first./ As such, its origin and history are worthy of inquiry, and as an act of Civil Authority, the Proclamation for its observance may be deemed entitled to a more permanent form of record than the casual chances of the periodical press.
The in-gathering of the fruits of the earth, has from time immemorial, and among all nations, been a season of gladness; and with such as possessed definite views of their obligations to the Unseen Providence that governs the Universe, has been accompanied by such forms of devotion as were deemed most appropriate to express their gratitude for this bounty, and their dependence for its continuance. In like manner, special instances of national success, of preservation from impending calamities, or of relief from grievous afflictions, have been made the subjects of such form of Thanksgiving as the occasion might suggest, and calamities have been sought to be averted or removed by Public Fasting and Prayer. Among most civilized countries these occasions have been marked by public ordinances directing the time and manner of observance.
We find at an early period of New England history, that special occasions of prosperity or calamity, were continually ascribed to the smiles or frowns of Providence, and often made the occasion of Public Thanksgiving or Fast; and the tone of religious sentiment which prevailed among the early Colonists, led in the infancy of their settlement, to the annual observance of each. The former was usually in autumn, and the latter in spring.
… At an early period in the Revolution, the Continental Congress adopted the custom of invoking the Divine Favor by Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, and the days thus appointed were generally in the spring months. It always suspended its own sessions upon the days thus set apart, when the public exigencies would allow.
… The Journals of the Continental Congress contain eight several appointments of Thanksgiving days, and the resolutions expressing the wishes of Congress upon this subject, were in the form of recommendations to the Executive heads of the State governments, reciting in appropriate terms, the occasion which prompted the observance, and the favors which a Benign Providence had conferred upon them as a people. With one exception, Congress suspended business upon the days it had appointed for Thanksgiving.
… The official announcement of peace between the United States and Great Britain, was regarded by Congress and our State Legislature as an event demanding a public expression of gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and at the joint suggestion of the Executive and Legislative authorities, it was unanimously decided to celebrate the happy event by a Solemn Thanksgiving.
… This custom is now observed in nearly every State and organized Territory in the Union.
Hough, Franklin Benjamin, 1822-1885. Proclamations for Thanksgiving, issued by the Continental Congress: Pres’t Washington, by the national and state governments on the Peace of 1815, and by the governors of New York since the introduction of the custom; with those of the governors of the several states in 1858. Munsell & Rowland, 1858. 183 pp. 28 cm.