Nov 23, 2017
Like the pilgrims who gathered with their neighbors at Plymouth Rock after their first successful harvest in 1621, the early American colonists celebrated days of thanksgiving. When a drought ended or a war won, they would set aside a day to give thanks for the favorable outcome. For example, after the victory over British forces in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the Continental Congress declared a Thanksgiving holiday. The thirteen original colonies stopped their ordinary routine in order "to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to [Almighty God] for benefits received, and to implore …farther blessings…"
Two years after the signing of the Constitution of the United States, on September 28, 1789, Congress formally asked President George Washington to name a national day of thanksgiving. It was Elias Boudinot, a statesman from New Jersey, who introduced the resolution for this first national Thanksgiving Day. It was to be observed as a day of prayer "… acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness."
Wasting no time, five days after receiving Congress' resolution, Washington designated Thursday, November 26, 1789 as that day of thanks for the blessings which God bestowed on our country. The tradition of celebrating such a day of thanks continued after that first national holiday. But, not all the states observed their Thanksgiving on the same day.
In the midst of the bloodshed of the civil war, President Lincoln harkened back to the example of the nation's first president. However, he declared not one, but two Thanksgiving celebrations. The first was on Thursday, August 6, 1863 to commemorate the Union's victory at Gettysburg. The second was a nationwide holiday, to be observed on the last Thursday of every November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." Eventually, President Roosevelt standardized the celebration of Thanksgiving. On December 26, 1941, he established the fourth Thursday in November as the Thanksgiving Day holiday for the entire country.