Tag Archives: Franklin Roosevelt

The 150th “official” Thanksgiving

Americans had been celebrating “thanksgivings” in one form or another for a long time before the Civil War, but it wasn’t until Lincoln’s presidency that the holiday acquired a sort of official seal of approval and a standardized date, at least on the national level.

In response to pleas from editor Sarah Josepha Hale (who had been petitioning for such a national holiday for years), on October 3, 1863 Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day.  The country followed this practice until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted an earlier date to accommodate a longer holiday shopping season.  Congress eventually settled on the fourth Thursday in November.

Lincoln’s October 1863 proclamation helped transform Thanksgiving from a holiday limited to certain states and practiced on various days into a genuinely national custom.  Interestingly, Lincoln probably didn’t write it himself; one of his secretaries credited it to William H. Seward.

We’ve featured the proclamation on this blog before, but since this year marks the sesquicentennial of Thanksgiving as an “official” United States holiday, it seems appropriate to post the text again.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

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, 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.

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A conversation with Craig Symonds

This is the third in our occasional series of interviews with scholars of Lincoln and the Civil War.  Dr. Craig Symonds holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida and is a former naval officer.  After teaching at the Naval War College he moved to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he stayed for three decades as one of that institution’s most popular professors and received a number of teaching awards.  His books include Lincoln and His Admirals (for which he was a co-recipient of the Lincoln Prize), The Civil War at Sea, Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History, Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography, Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War, and The Battle of Midway.

How did you get interested in the study of Lincoln and the Civil War?

My interest in Lincoln may well date from my earliest memories, and in particular attending Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Anaheim, California.  There was an enormous (to me) bronze statue of Lincoln in an alcove in the front of the school in those days (it is gone now, alas), and I can remember looking up at it and thinking how impressive he was.  Then, some years later, I was a teenager during the Centennial of the Civil War and I eagerly read Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the war as they came out. 

It’s commonly said that Lincoln grew into the job of commander-in-chief, even though he had no experience with military command before his election.  Did his grasp of naval strategy improve over time, and did he make any significant mistakes?

Lincoln’s great gift as a politician and statesman was his ability to learn and adapt to a wide variety of circumstances, and to work effectively with a disparate selection of individuals, at least some of whom were inclined to be disagreeable.   Lincoln certainly learned a great deal on the job about naval matters, but the key to his success was his ability to judge and to manage the people as much as it was grasping the arcane details of naval technology or naval strategy.  And of course he made mistakes in the process, but he learned from each of them, and almost never made the same mistake twice.  Finally, he was unusual, if not nearly unique, in his willingness to acknowledge his errors.  During the Vicksburg campaign, he became convinced that once Grant had passed the Rebel citadel, he should continue downriver to join Banks in assailing Port Hudson.  After Vicksburg fell, he went out of his way to write to Grant, “I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.”  What president since then has ever admitted such a thing?

What was the nature of Lincoln’s relationship with Gideon Welles?  How closely did he involve himself in naval operations?

I think Lincoln genuinely enjoyed Gideon Welles, whom he called “Father Neptune” or “Uncle Gideon.”  Welles was an eccentric character with his mismatched wig and voluble personality, but he was always completely candid with Lincoln—something the president counted on.  Lincoln also appreciated the fact that, along with the Assistant Secretary Gustavus Fox, Welles ran the Navy Department with little active oversight.  Lincoln preferred to let the experts run their departments and he intervened only at need.  In cases like the Trent Affair, the Peterhoff case, or feuds with the Army, Lincoln necessarily had to get involved, but only because there was no one else in the government who could.  He was not an activist manager by instinct.

Lincoln’s frustration with Samuel Francis Du Pont regarding the attack on Charleston in 1863 brings to mind his troubled relationship with George McClellan.  Was Lincoln’s disappointment with Du Pont justified, and were his expectations realistic when it came to his naval commanders? 

Lincoln’s frustration with Du Pont derived from two factors:  One was the fact that the president had recently washed his hands of McClellan, and his tendency to conflate Du Pont’s apparent timidity concerning the Charleston defenses with McClellan’s behavior, while perhaps a bit unfair, was certainly understandable.  The second factor was that Du Pont was annoyingly shut-mouthed about his plans.  All Lincoln really wanted was honest candor from his commanders, both on land and at sea.  Bu Du Pont decided that he should not burden the president with details about naval matters and rather than explain the circumstances forthrightly, he hemmed and hawed and didn’t act.  Then, when he did, and was repulsed, he demanded that his reports be published in order to justify his decisions.  More than anything else, it was Du Pont’s evident concern for his own reputation, rather than his failure, that turned Lincoln against him.

Do you think its accurate to call the Civil War a “modern war,” and how open was Lincoln the technological developments in nineteenth-century naval warfare?

The Civil War was most certainly the world’s first modern war.  The mass conscription of civilians in the armies, and the transformation of industry to mass-produce military equipment, as much as the new technology, proves this.  But the technology was also revolutionary.  It was the first railroad war, the first telegraph war, the first war that involved armored ships firing rifled guns.  For his part, Lincoln easily and almost seamlessly embraced these new technologies, and in some cases, actively advanced them.  I have often said that Lincoln was a “gadget guy” and enjoyed going down to the Navy Yard to watch, or even participate in, the testing of some new weapon.

One of the first Union strategies for defeating the Confederacy involved a naval blockade.  How effective was this effort, and what role did it play in the North’s ultimate victory?

This is simply too big a question for me to deal with in a short answer.  On the whole, I believe that the blockade was worth the effort and expense; that it severely restricted the Confederacy’s ability to wage war; and that it probably shorted the war by a matter of several months.  For a longer and more complete answer, I’m afraid you’ll have to look at my books.

On a somewhat broader note than the previous questions, how important was the Union Navy’s contribution to the overall war effort? 

The Civil War was primarily a land war, and I believe that the Union would have won that war even without overwhelming naval superiority so long as the public continued to support the Lincoln administration’s war policy.  But it would almost certainly have been a longer and even bloodier war.   Without Union superiority on the western rivers, the campaigns for Forts Henry and Donelson, for Island Number 10, for Vicksburg, and of course for New Orleans would have been entirely different.  If the Union Navy shortened the war by, say, six months, then it may have saved a hundred thousand lives.

Compared to other presidents, how would you rate Lincoln as a naval commander-in-chief?

Few presidents had the opportunity to manage naval forces in a modern war of this scale.  Only Franklin Roosevelt comes close, and FDR (like his distant cousin Teddy) was a man who had studied the navy since childhood.   Roosevelt was far more knowledgeable about naval matters than Lincoln, but the two men had very similar instincts:  a disarming congeniality, a flexible, non-ideological outlook, a pragmatic world view, and keen political skills.  I rank them both at the very top of all American presidents, not just in war management, but in presidential excellence.

Finally, what leadership lessons can modern Americans learn from Lincoln?

I’ll name three:  patience; a willingness to listen, as well as talk; and a sense of humor.  Sadly, all three are sorely in need in our nation today.


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Lincoln, FDR, and their decisions for war

By Dr. Charles M. Hubbard

The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War reminds us of the enormity of the secession crisis that confronted the nation in April of 1861. On April 12 the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. President Abraham Lincoln was confronted with gravest decision any president is required to make—how to respond to an attack on the country. Lincoln made the fateful decision to use military force to suppress the rebellion. His decision eventually escalated into a bloody and prolonged Civil War.  At the time many of Lincoln’s critics accused him of maneuvering the rebels and manipulating the circumstances to force Jefferson Davis and the Confederates into firing the first shot. Lincoln had made his position on secession clear in his first inaugural address when he pledged to protect the government: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.”

The same charge of deliberately leading the country into war is sometimes leveled at Franklin D Roosevelt. In Roosevelt’s case the question was how to respond to the aggressive military tactics of the Empire of Japan. In an effort to force Japan to refrain from further aggression in Asia, Roosevelt placed an embargo on military supplies and moved the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. These actions form the basis of the charges that Roosevelt forced Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Neither Abraham Lincoln nor Franklin Roosevelt wanted war.  Both presidents responded to unprovoked attacks on the country. Their critics continue to argue that a more passive response to the events preceding the outbreak of hostilities could have avoided the two deadliest wars in American history, but Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were astute politicians and understood that Americans would support a forceful response to any threat to the security and preservation of the nation.

The two wars were different—one was a Civil War between Americans and the other a world war involving people all over the globe—but the decisions of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt significantly changed the world in which we live. In 1864 Lincoln wrote, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”  The same could be said of Roosevelt. The events and circumstances left little choice for either President and both decided to take the nation into armed conflict.

—Charles Hubbard is Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy

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