“Nationalize as much as possible” to “make men love their country before their states. All private interests, all local interests, all banking interests, the interests of individuals, everything, should be subordinate now to the interest of the Government.”
–Senator John Sherman, 1863 (Cited in Heather Cox Richardson, The Greatest Nation on the Earth, p. 87
George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789 as a way of celebrating the newly-ratified Constitution. He distributed his proclamation to the governors of the states and suggested that they participate in the celebration, which the states all did in their own ways for many years. The federal government was not yet a centralized, consolidated, monopolistic, central-planning bureaucracy, so Washington’s proclamation was no more than a suggestion offered to the citizens of the free and independent states.
Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until Lincoln nationalized all the state Thanksgiving celebrations by issuing a proclamation written by Secretary of State William Seward (according to Lincoln’s White House secretary, John Nicolay) on October 3, 1863. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is a masterpiece of lies, deceptions, and false propaganda that would have impressed any twentieth-century tyrant.
In order to keep the Northern public sufficiently frightened and paranoid (and hence supportive of the war), the Seward/Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation announced that the war “seemed to foreign States to invite and provoke their aggression.” In reality, no foreign state would ever have considered invading a country across a large ocean that had just assembled one of the largest and best-equipped armies in the history of the world. In fact, at the end of the war many British politicians and opinion makers were terrified that Sherman would cross the Atlantic and invade England as punishment for trading with the Confederacy during the war.
The most absurd claim made in Lincoln’s proclamation is that “order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict.” This was three months after some fifteen thousand U.S. Army soldiers were ordered to leave the Gettysburg battlefield and march to New York City to put down the New York City Draft riots, which they did by murdering hundreds, if not thousands, of draft protesters by shooting them down in the streets (See Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots). Colonel Arthur B. Fremantle, a British government emissary to the Confederate Army, was making his way back to England via New York at the time and described the scene in his book, Three Months in the Southern States:
“The reports of outrages, hangings, and murder, were now most alarming, the terror and anxiety were universal. All shops were shut; all carriages and omnibuses had ceased running. No colored man or woman was visible or safe in the streets, or even in his own dwelling. Telegraphs were cut, and railroad tracks torn up.”
Violent mobs roamed the streets for days, wrote Freemantle, attacking the police and especially affluent Republicans who were able to buy their way out of the enslaving draft law for $300. Such was the Seward/Lincoln idea of “harmony.” The fact that there was a massive desertion crisis in the Union Army (See Ella Lonn, Desertion During the Civil War), along with hundreds of thousands of draft evaders, also proves the absurdity of the claim that “harmony has prevailed” in the Northern States.
The notion that “the laws have been respected” is equally absurd, since Lincoln had illegally suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern citizens without due process on the mere suspicion of criticizing himself or the government (See Freedom Under Lincoln by Dean Sprague and Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln by James Randall). Hundreds of Northern newspapers were shut down by Republican Party thugs in a gross assault on freedom of the press. Lincoln redefined treason from the definition of it in the Constitution (Article 3, Section 3) as being the levying of war upon the states, which is exactly what he had done, to criticism of him and his regime. These are just a few of the reasons why generations of historians referred to “the Lincoln dictatorship.” It was a lawless regime that boastfully lied about the laws being “respected.”
When the South seceded it had no intention whatsoever of attacking the Northern states. Jefferson Davis did not want to run the government in Washington, D.C. any more than George Washington wanted to run the government in London. Yet the Seward/Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation speaks of “diversions of wealth” to “the national defense” (emphasis added). But Lincoln was waging an offensive war, the purpose of which, according to his own numerous declarations and the declarations of the U.S. Congress, was to force the Southern states back into the union so that “the duties and imposts” can be collected from them, as Abe announced in his first inaugural address.
In the Northern states freedom of speech was essentially abolished; tens of thousands of political dissenters were imprisoned; taxes of every kind were raised to astronomical levels; hundreds of thousands of soldiers had already been killed or maimed for life in the war; inflation was raging; draft riots occurred not just in New York City but throughout the North; capital investment was massively diverted from civilian to military uses, thereby crippling economic growth; and international trade had almost come to a halt. Yet the Seward/Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation cheerfully concluded that “the country” is “rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor.”
This was an obvious attempt to falsely equate “the country” with “the government” in the minds of the public. War always explodes the size, scope and powers of the state by crippling, diminishing, nationalizing, or destroying parts of the civil society and the private enterprise system.
Lincoln also claimed to know what was in the mind of God in his Thanksgiving Proclamation by asserting that God is “dealing with us in anger for our sins” by forcing a war on the nation. This was also the main theme of Lincoln’s second inaugural address – that the war was not in any way his fault, but just “came” as God’s punishment for all Americans, North and South, for the sin of slavery. Americans were “unavoidably engaged” in a war, he said in the Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Lincoln never attempted to explain why God would punish only Americans for the sin of slavery while ignoring the fact that some 95 percent of all the slaves that were brought to the Western Hemisphere were kidnapped and transported there by the British, Spanish, French, Dutch, and others besides Americans.
Lincoln concluded his Proclamation by urging the nationalization of Thanksgiving by celebrating “with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.” It is unlikely that any American from a Southern state (which Lincoln always insisted were at all times a part of the American union) at the time would have been so motivated.