On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that declared “the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” Lincoln’s famous Thanksgiving Day proclamation was in large part undertaken at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale—poet, novelist, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, and, lest we forget, author of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb” (originally titled “Mary’s Lamb“). Hale’s September 28, 1863, letter to Lincoln, in which she argues “to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival,” can be found online through the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Even better, more detailed histories of Thanksgiving can be found through posts on the Library of Congress Blog and the Law Library’s blog In Custodia Legis.
Hale’s letter to Lincoln is one of many letters Lincoln received from the public during his time in office. As president, Lincoln received an average of 250 to 500 pieces of mail each day. Of particular interest for readers of From the Catbird Seat are the many letters he received that were written in his praise. These were occasionally accompanied by poems—some original, others clipped from newspapers—submitted to Lincoln for his approval, delight, and diversion.
Among the poems Lincoln received is one enclosed in a November 25, 1864 letter from New Yorker John C. Baxter, who informs Lincoln that “the enclosed lines have been sent by large quantities, in the boxes of Turkeys, to our brave boys at the Front. They were written by my good-wife at the request of a mother who has a noble son in the ranks battling for Freedom.”
Whether your Thanksgiving dinner features a turkey or an alternative entrée, we at From the Catbird Seat wish you a wonderful holiday.