Political foes in York, Pa., not impressed with Abe Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamations

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This cartoon, found in Jim Lewin’s and P.J. Huff’s book, “Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War,” is indicative of the regular scrutiny Abraham Lincoln and his polices drew from his political opponents. For example, The York (Pa.) Gazette, a Democratic weekly newspaper, was a shrill opponent of the Republican president. Also of interest: Imposing Thanksgiving statues greet York Post Office users and Did York’s Thanksgiving proclamation indeed create America’s first Thanksgiving? and Pre-World War II Thanksgiving holds lessons for York countians today.

History buffs in York County – and there are many of them – often associate Thanksgiving with the American Revolution. (See Thanksgiving and war below.)

But there’s a local historical angle to Thanksgiving and the Civil War, particularly York County residents’ disappointingly low view of Abraham Lincoln’s justified, high-minded Thanksgiving proclamations.

All this is rolled into the following piece, which I wrote and appears as a York Daily Record/Sunday News editorial, headlined “A bi-partisan Thanksgiving”… .

In the Civil War’s first year, President Abraham Lincoln set aside a time in late November 1861 as a day of thanksgiving and praise.
The York Gazette, an anti-Lincoln newspaper, tersely reminded its readers that places of business would be closed that day and houses of worship would offer services.
Later, the Democratic newspaper did not report on the holiday, instead reprinting articles railing against Lincoln policies, including a story from the Reading Gazette.
About 700 fugitive slaves had escaped to Philadelphia, the story stated.
“What is to be done with them?” the story asked.
“These fugitive slaves will soon be a more costly prize on our hands than was the elephant won in a raffle, to his owner.”
If they sought jobs, those 700 fugitives would take that amount of work from white laborers, the story continued.
If they kept idle, they would have it made, thanks to “the folly of their sympathizing white friends.”
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President Lincoln again proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving for November 1863.
The Gazette again made a perfunctory mention of the day.
Then the Democratic organ launched broadsides at the Republican president in two different editions.
One story, reprinted from The Age in Philadelphia, reported on a speech Lincoln gave at the Nov. 19 dedication of a cemetery in Gettysburg.
“Mr. Lincoln made a joke or two .¤.¤. ,” The Age’s story stated. That newspaper story then piled vitriol on what later became known as the Gettysburg Address:
“With the groans of the wounded still resounding in the air — the corpses of the slain still unburied — the bereaved still clad in the emblems of mourning and their tears still flowing — these men meet to laugh and joke and electioneer.”
As in 1861, the newspaper did not report about the day of thanksgiving, again choosing to pick on fugitives — this time slaves who had gained sanctuary behind Union lines in Mississippi.
“Thousands of insolent, lazy and good-for-nothing negroes are now burdening the government with their support, without ever making an effort to recompense it for its pains,” the newspaper reported after the late-November holiday that thereafter was celebrated annually.
“They are literally swarming the banks of the Mississippi, seeking the paradise that Abolition fanaticism has taught them to expect.”
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Whew!
Such cynicism. Such partisanship.
All surrounding a day of thanksgiving and praise.
But some would say that was merely the political carping of the day.
No one would twist such a well-meaning gesture from a chief executive nowadays.
No?
Well, the Dems, for example, discarded civility in actions big and small taken by President George W. Bush, and the Republicans have President Barack Obama in their sights.
It goes down from there.
Lieutenants Cheney and Pelosi are favorites at the whipping post.
Perhaps today, Thanksgiving Day, the Democrats should pray for the Republicans.
And vice versa.
And we should thank God for our blessings, our freedoms and the fact that many of us still have the wherewithal to eat far more than we should today.
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Indeed, we should pray for civility in the public square.
Clearly, we should be bold and astute in our appraisal of our government.
And outspoken in our disagreement.
But not mean.
Civil.
And sufficiently self aware that the other party might occasionally be right.
If we don’t, the shrill denunciations of Lincoln’s — or Bush’s or Obama’s — perceived intentions will continue to echo.
One hundred fifty years from now, someone will look back, as we did at Democratic partisanship toward the Lincoln Administration, and justifiably poke at our incivility.
Such gotcha politics come at the expense of statesmanship — much needed as we seek solutions to the daunting issues facing this nation and the world.

Thanksgiving and war

Since America’s earliest years, its leaders proclaimed national days of thanksgiving. Continental Congress did so when meeting in York in 1777-78, one of seven such days during the American Revolution. George Washington proclaimed such days during his presidency, and a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 was part of that series. In 1863, Lincoln’s proclamation made the day an annual observance, and Congress and the Roosevelt Administration established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November during World War II.

Also of interest:
Check out these scores of posts of the Civil War in York County, as well as additional posts telling about Lincoln visits to the county.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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