The very first “thanksgiving” was celebrated in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth by another group of English settlers. The event was held on the banks of the James River at what is now Berkeley Plantation, the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence and father of the ninth President of the United States, William Henry.
Most Americans, however, remember that the Thanksgiving Day tradition was modeled after the 1621 event in Plymouth, Massachusetts where fifty Pilgrims and ninety Wampanoag Indians feasted for three days. The Pilgrims were indeed thankful for friendship and a bountiful harvest. In the previous year, half of the Pilgrims had starved to death. A Patuxet Indian named Squanto came to their rescue helping them to survive in the New World.
Throughout our history, Americans were called hundreds of times by their leaders to days of fasting and prayer and subsequent days of thanksgiving often by local officials and governors.
The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by the Governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 20, 1676. The council wanted to offer thanks for a series of victories in the ongoing “War with the Heathen Natives” setting apart the 29th of June as a “day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such His Goodness and Favor.”
But it was President George Washington at the request of the Congress, who on October 3, 1789 issued the first national thanksgiving day proclamation from New York City. Setting aside November 26, the proclamation stated that “our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience.”
Washington issued his second thanksgiving day proclamation in 1795. Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Madison all issued proclamation calling for a day of Thanksgiving.
But few Americans gathering this week with family and friends for the feast know about the woman most credited with making Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Born Sarah J. Buell on October 24, 1788, in Newport, New Hampshire, it was Sarah Josepha Hale’s persistent petitions that brought about the holiday. She sent hundreds of letters to politicians, including five presidents, imploring them to institute a national day of thanksgiving.
Buell became one of the most influential women in the United States as the editor of the most widely circulated women’s magazine called Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the most-well-known poem in American history.
But it was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln received her letter in the midst of the Civil War that the New England tradition would become a national one. “If every state would join in Thanksgiving,” she wrote, “Would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution?” Lincoln agreed.
He set apart the last Thursday of November as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He called upon Americans “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.”
Lincoln would issue three more thanksgiving proclamations from the White House. Subsequent presidents issued similar proclamations but the states chose different days for the thanksgiving observance. It was not until 1934 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that to “set aside in the autumn of each year a day on which to give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings of life is a wise and reverent custom, long cherished by our people.” In 1941, the Congress made the third Thursday of November an official national holiday.
Again and again even in our darkest days, our leaders have called upon us to give thanks to our Creator for our many blessings. This year was a difficult year for so many Americans who are out of work or have suffered economic hardship. Nevertheless, we are a nation that has always persevered through hardship and we will again. Because even when challenged we have always been a grateful nation. So with gratitude, it is fitting that we should reflect upon what is good and what God has given us. It is in that spirit that we along with our entire team wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Our Charity of the Month
Envision a world without Alzheimer’s Disease. A world in which advanced research and brain health have erased the disheartening effects of dementia so patients no longer have to resign themselves to interior confinement and confusion.
This is the vision the Alzheimer’s Association works tirelessly to achieve.
More than 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the United States, and by 2050 there will be nearly 16 million Americans suffering from the disease. It is a progressive brain disorder that attacks brain cells and leads to memory loss, accounting for approximately 60-80% of dementia cases. Moreover, Alzheimer’s is fatal – the sixth leading cause of death in the United States – and today there is no treatment to cure or even slow the disease.
Alzheimer’s is also extremely costly. Those with the disease and other dementias cost the healthcare system three times more than those without. It will cost the United States $172 billion this year. And due to the coming surge in cases as America ages, by mid-century Alzheimer’s will cost the country more than a trillion dollars per year, with most of this absorbed by the country’s already badly strained Medicare and Medicaid systems.
Furthermore, nearly 11 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for individuals suffering from this disease. These Alzheimer and dementia caregivers dedicate as many as 12.5 billion hours of free care valued at $144 billion to care for their loved ones.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a donor-sponsored charity founded in 1980 to overcome this disease. The organization dedicates no less than 72% of its national organization’s funds directly to Alzheimer’s research, advocacy, and support. Since its inception, the Alzheimer’s Association has been the leader in the Alzheimer awareness movement, promoting and funding innovative research; speaking out for greater public awareness and the need for increased research, prevention, and care; and actively engaging with the national and local communities to support and expand outreach that ensures greater knowledge, safety, and resources for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
A critical emphasis of the Alzheimer’s Association is to encourage policies aimed at ending the disease. Currently, the Association is working to advance policy priorities identified by the Alzheimer’s Study Group (ASG), a blue ribbon taskforce that includes several distinguished national leaders. (For more information and ways to get involved, please visit alz.org/alzstudygroup.) Already, the Alzheimer’s Association has recruited a community of more than 300,000 advocates united together to demand bold, strategic action to overcome the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest private funder of Alzheimer research. In addition to having spurred major advances through the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants, it has worked to catalyze the scientific community. Beyond housing the largest library and resource center for Alzheimer and dementia research in the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (AAICAD) is the world’s largest scientific conference that brings together researchers from around the globe to report and discuss groundbreaking research and information on the cause, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders.
The organization’s signature Memory Walk event – the largest event in the U.S. to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s research – mobilizes Alzheimer champions from across the country. According to their 2009 Annual Report, the 2008 Walk was comprised of 220,000 participants in 25,000 teams, generating over $38 million. Since 1989, Memory Walk has raised over $300 million for the Alzheimer’s cause.
We need to raise our voices, together in solidarity with those who struggle with this disease, to make the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision a reality.
Speak out about these issues, advocate for effective national solutions to overcome this disease, join us in donating to this vital cause. Together, in conjunction with the cutting-edge research currently underway, we can ensure a future where our lives and memories – and those of our children and grandchildren – are not prematurely taken away. Please join us in supporting the Alzheimer’s Association this November.
Newt and Callista
• Newt will be joined by former President of Spain José María Aznar and Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan to speak at The Americano’s First Annual Hispanic Forum. Register today and attend the Forum on December 2-3 in Washington, DC.
• In his piece posted at Renewing American Leadership, Charles LiMandri
explains how an oligarchy of federal judges is taking the power of defining
marriage away from the citizens who continue to uphold the traditional
values of the institution. You can read the piece here.
• At ReAL Action, watch the clip of Frank Gaffney as he challenges Imam Rauf’s
claim that Sharia Law is 90% compatible with the US Constitution. You can
watch the clip here.
• At the Newt.org store, we are running deep discounts of up to 65% on autographed books. A personalized autographed book makes a great Christmas present. Check out shop.newt.org.