Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 1865 in Washington City

Each year during the Sesquicentennial I wrote a post focused on Thanksgiving at the corresponding time 150 years ago. I looked at holiday celebrations in camp or in the streets, hospitals, and churches of Washington and Alexandria. Now that the four-year commemoration is over, I wasn't sure what to do for this Thanksgiving. Many people are turning their attention to the aftermath of war and the start of Reconstruction so I decided to check out the Washington papers for the end of 1865, as the reunited nation prepared to observe the first Thanksgiving holiday since the end of the war.

President Andrew Johnson declared a day of national Thanksgiving for Thursday, December 7, 1865. In his Proclamation, the President reminded the American people that "it has pleased Almighty God during the year which is now coming to an end to relieve our beloved country from the fearful scourge of civil war and to permit us to secure the blessings of peace, unity, and harmony, with a great enlargement of civil liberty. . . ." He recommended that "the whole people make confession of our national sins against His infinite goodness, and with one heart and one mind implore the divine guidance in the ways of national virtue and holiness."

On December 6, the day before Thanksgiving, the Washington Daily National Republican published the following editorial:

The editorial surely reflected the thoughts of many loyal Americans about the ground the nation had traversed since the previous year and just how much the country had reason to give thanks as the end of 1865 approached. Some, however, may have disputed the characterization of President Johnson, who had just given his State of the Union address on December 4. (The speech is referenced in the article.)

Two Winslow Homer views of Thanksgiving Day, 1865 from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated:  Hanging up the Musket and The Church Porch (courtesy of streetsofsalem).

Thanksgiving in Washington City was a relatively subdued affair. As was typical in previous years, businesses were closed. The Washington Evening Star reported that "the churches were opened for divine worship, and were well attended, while the services at each were appropriate to the occasion." (Dec. 8, 1865.) The paper was also pleased to observe that "throughout the day there were fewer displays of improper conduct than usual on such festive occasions." (Dec. 8, 1865.) According to the Daily National Republican, Bostonians were nowhere near as well behaved as the "staid and proper" Washingtonians. (Dec.8, 1865.) The paper reported that during the evening in Boston, "many persons were slewed, with great carnage." (Dec. 8, 1865.) Perhaps high rates of celebratory drinking had something to do with ruining the holiday up north. In any event, whether in Washington City or elsewhere, Thanksgiving gave Americans a day of rest and relaxation as they prepared to deal with the difficult issue of reconstruction and the future of the reunited country.

On a personal note, I'd like to wish all of my readers a Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the good times with family and friends, eat plenty of turkey and fixings, and see you next month!

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