A national day of thanksgiving has been a part of American life since the earliest days of our country in the early 1600s. By the mid-17th century, the custom of thanksgivings was established throughout New England and began to spread southward during the American Revolution. The newly established Congress recognized the need for such a celebration. The Founding Fathers thought it important that this tradition be recognized by proclamation.
Soon after approving the Bill of Rights, a motion was made in Congress to initiate the proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving. In 1789 Congress requested that the president "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God...." And President Washington did just that.
After 1815 the annual tradition of a presidential proclamation ceased and did not resume until during the Civil War, when President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. The traditional day eventually became the last Thursday of November.
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