As professionals in a unique Profession of Arms, we have an interesting connection to the establishment of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, the institution of this peaceful observance strongly relates to war. The Thanksgiving holiday evolved not in times of ease or contentment, but during or immediately after times of struggle. While the story of Native Americans and Puritans sharing a thanksgiving feast in 1621 provided the inspiration for the national holiday, the annual observance was a long time in coming.

Documentation has shown that, both before and after the Puritans landed, Spanish explorers and other English colonists celebrated religious services of thanksgiving in different places in North America. However, these were isolated events that were not repeated with any frequency or regularity. Then in 1789, a career Soldier named George Washington, then president of the United States, issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, wherein he did "recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being" (God) for, among other things, "the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war." The late war, of course, referred to the colonies' revolution against Great Britain that had raged only a few years prior.

Presidents John Adams and James Monroe proclaimed days of fasting and humiliation during their respective terms of office, but it was another war with Great Britain that inspired Monroe, in 1815, to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving. In it he referred to the War for Independence and the War of 1812 and urged the people of the United States to be thankful for a successful conclusion to the latest war. "Under His [God's] fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government," said Monroe. "In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition. During the interval which succeeded He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights, and to enhance their
national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated ...."

Forty-eight years were to pass before a U.S. president again issued a Thanksgiving proclamation. During these years, a number of states, primarily those in New England, set aside days for Thanksgiving, but the federal government did not. This was something Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a popular women's magazine, determined to change, beginning in 1827. She publicly petitioned several presidents, ultimately persuading Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity," Lincoln apparently hoped to further rally the Northern states by proclaiming a day of thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November following significant Union victories in the preceding few months. "Notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field," Lincoln encouraged his fellow citizens to rejoice "in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor" and "to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom." Lincoln issued another proclamation the following year, thereby beginning an annual custom of U.S. presidents.

It was not until 1941 -- during the year the United States entered World War II -- that Congress permanently fixed the date of Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November.

As another Thanksgiving arrives, we find ourselves in a state of persistent conflict, hardly comparable to previous wars. While the hardship on the average American is minimal compared to that caused by previous wars, thousands of American service men and women, civilians, including a significant number of our own, are overseas, separated from their families on this major family holiday. So we ought to think of those that are deployed and their families with the hope that they will soon be reunited happily with their families.

And we also ought to remember that observance of Thanksgiving in America was developed in perilous times, and while we may have much for which to be thankful, it is also an occasion to recommit ourselves to the tasks that give us reason for thanks. I ask that we all rededicate ourselves to the Army Profession, the Griffin Team, and your individual responsibilities.

My family and I extend our heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you, and may all of you and yours have a meaningful, enjoyable and safe Thanksgiving holiday. As a way of saying thanks, I will invoke the "59-Minute" rule on 23 November, for all civilian employees and a DONSA on Friday the 25th of November, for all military.


Page last updated Tue November 22nd, 2011 at 10:30