1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was the first President to make Thanksgiving a national holiday! On October 3, 1863 he issued a proclamation that set the precedent for the national holiday observed today. It is often referred to as the Proclamation of Thanksgiving and was written by Secretary of State, William Seward. Here is the proclamation as found in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6, pages 497-498, edited by Roy P. Basler.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who,Page 497 while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them 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, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
2. Did you know … that on April 14, 1956, the last surviving person who was in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination passed away. His name was Samuel J. Seymour and he was 96 years old. It’s ironic that he died exactly 91 years to the day that the assassination took place. At the time of the assassination, Seymour was just 5 years old. His godmother, Mrs. George S. Goldsborough, took him to see Our American Cousin. They sat in the Dress Circle facing opposite the Presidential box and witnessed the assassination and Booth’s leap to the stage.
Reference: We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts by Timothy S. Good.
3. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln wore reading glasses? He first needed them at age 47 (around 1856). On the night of his death, the contents of Lincoln’s pockets held two pairs of his glasses/spectacles. The prescription for the lenses of the spectacles is +1.75 and +2.00.
Above is the collection of items President Lincoln had in his possession on the night of his assassination. Two pairs of eyeglasses were part of that collection. Courtesy Library of Congress.
NOTE: Just this month (November 19, 2008), a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s spectacles sold at the 2008 November The John Lattimer Collection of Lincolniana Grand Format Auction #6014 for US$179,250.00. The pair is made of zinc-colored metal with adjustable frames, open loop terminals.
To see the entire series, click here “SUMMARY OF THE “DID YOU KNOW” ABRAHAM LINCOLN SERIES (Parts 1-15)”
If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by three Lincoln experts: