Thanksgiving History: The Two Thanksgivings of 1871

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1871 turkey plucking harpersFor about a week in 1871, New Yorkers were in a quandary about Thanksgiving. On October 25, New York Governor John T. Hoffman designated Thursday, November 23 as Thanksgiving Day for the state. In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, the Tammany Hall Democrat urged New Yorkers to spend time on that day to declare “their gratitude to God for all his mercies” and to “remember especially the poor.”

On October 28, President Ulysses S. Grant recommended that the nation observe Thanksgiving a week after the New York Thanksgiving, on Thursday November 30. In his proclamation, the Republican chief executive called for Americans to “make the usual acknowledgments to Almighty God for the blessings he has conferred on them” and ask “His protection and kindness for their less fortunate brethren.”

What was a conscientious, holiday-minded New Yorker supposed to do? Observe the Democratic Thanksgiving on November 23, or the Republican Thanksgiving on November 30, or both?

Neither Governor Hoffman nor President Grant had done anything wrong or unusual. They both were following customs established by their predecessors in office. In New York State, governors had been calling for the observance of a general statewide Thanksgiving on an annual basis continuously since Governor DeWitt Clinton issued his Thanksgiving proclamation in 1817. Previously, Federalist Governor John Jay had issued a proclamation recommending November 26, 1795, as a day of public thanksgiving but Jay’s recommendation quickly became a political football. Democratic-Republicans assailed Jay for using the civil government to influence religious institutions to declare a religious holiday. Others saw “the cloven foot of monarchy in this business.” Jay held office until 1801 but never issued another Thanksgiving Day proclamation to the Empire State.

The days chosen for state Thanksgivings by Clinton and his immediate successors were all Thursdays but they ranged in date from as early as November 5 to as late as December 21.

On the national level, there were no calls from the president for the observance of a general day of Thanksgiving on an annual basis until President Abraham Lincoln set the precedent on October 3, 1863 when he issued a proclamation inviting Americans “to observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Before 1863, Lincoln and other presidents had proclaimed nationwide thanksgiving observances but they had been called in response to specific events. For example, in 1789, President George Washington recommended that Americans observe a day of thanksgiving on November 26 in response to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He recommended another thanksgiving be observed on February 19, 1795 following the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. In 1815, President Madison called for the observance of a day of thanksgiving on the second Thursday of April in response to the signing of the peace treaty ending the War of 1812.

When Andrew Johnson became president, he followed the precedent established by Lincoln and also proclaimed annual national days of Thanksgiving. All of them were scheduled to be held on the last Thursday of November, except for Johnson’s first Thanksgiving which he set for December 7.

In 1871, President Grant continued the custom set by Lincoln and Johnson. Unfortunately, Grant’s choice of November 30 for Thanksgiving Day came in conflict with Governor Hoffman’s choice in New York for a Thanksgiving to be observed on November 23.

New Yorkers had two Thanksgivings to choose from until November 1 when Governor Hoffman revoked his proclamation naming November 23 and went along with Grant’s choice of November 30. Hoffman explained he had changed his mind because he wanted to encourage “peace and good will” and not “contention.” He added, “It becomes those in authority to set to the people the example.”

This year, some New Yorkers face dueling holidays again because Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Hanukkah. The press has begun referring to the day as “Thanksgivukkah,” but that is another story for another day.

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving History: The Two Thanksgivings of 1871

  1. Nives Cappelli

    My comment must be brief since I must tend to the turkey in the oven. The first Thanksgiving 1621 probably did not have turkey but venison but what’s important is that the the Godloving Pilgrims invited the American Indians to share blessings. In 1621! Now in 2013 the U.S. of America forgot this important event and so much of early American history. When I, as a little immigrant girl from Friuli Italy at P.S. 116 in Manhattan, historic teachers taught me about Miles Standish, JohnAlden and Priscilla (Aldrich?) And the brave romantic Priscilla’s “Speak for yourself John.” (When my children were small I bought candles and figurines of the Pilgrims. Today no more Miles but the Mall.
    I always had a passionate interest in early American history winning an award for my school P.S. 116
    sponsored by The New York Times on What American Democracy Owes Thomas Jefferson. And a medal from the American Legion.
    I’m a Hunter College graduate having taught Foreign Languages. Good for American students to know other cultures but they must know THEIR History first. I’m also a writer::Memoir and a novelist. My latest The Lively Life of Camilla Delibris, the Librarian by Nivessa Rovedo Hatsley inspired by an article in the NYTimesJan 2004 on The French and Indian War…the forgotten war, so important in American Revolution.
    I must attend to turkey. So pls go on UTube Nives Cappelli DVD A Prelude to a Film inspired by historic sites in Poughkeepsie where I now live AND The French and Indian War. (got a DVD on Fort Ticonderoga once Carillon) The novel is in the Adriance Memorial Library, amazon and DVD was shown in MidHudson Heritage Center. I do so welcome the New York State History Conference 6/2014 and I do wanto to participate as an individual presenter at Marist College where I presented a Italian Culture Course for
    Center for Lifetime Studies. I am trying my best to get historic organization to help me but haven’t got
    much success. Please get in touch with me to keep “WE THE PEOPLE”…the U.S. Empire NOT to fall like the ancient Roman Empire…believed by Massimo Flaviani in novel…

    Oh, oh, must go…NO not to MAll but to turkey HAPPY THANKSGIVING from
    Nives Cappelli (Nivessa R. Hatsley pseudonym)
    P.S. Thank you Prof Herb Hallas for the much appreciated blog and go to UTube and plspls get in touch with me.


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