Union Officer Angered and Frustrated by Quakers’ Refusal to Serve
On October 2, 1863, Major Stephen M. Pingree of Stockbridge, Vermont, wrote his cousin. His letter read in part:
. . . We were always unlucky in our squads of volunteer recruits, of whom we have, since we entered service, received about 200 or more. There are 3 Quakers, in our squad of conscripts — who will make some trouble. They are well off, but would not pay their $300 as it would help in the war, — (they admit this) and they refused to bear arms & came here with arms & equipment strapped on to them. Their uniforms had to be put on by force. They were babied, by being detailed at the Regt.l Hospital, and agreed to work there, but finally, they had a revelation, and refused this. They are now returned to their companies, and, unless they [mind], they stand a good chance, of being shot by order of a Court Martial. Reasoning does no good, — I see no way but to make them do duty or suffer as others do, for refusal. They are as much indebted to Gov’t for protection as you or I — and should be ready to obey the laws. . . . I believe they are Copperheads [Northerners who would end the war even if it destroys the Union and slavery continues], — Can you see any way out of the trouble, but do with them, as you would with others? Kind regards to Mrs. H & the children, . . .
Very truly — S.M. Pingree
A War of the People, Vermont Civil War Letters, Jeffrey M. Marshall, ed., pp. 186-7.
Lincoln Issues Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation, which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving.
He had previously issued other Thanksgiving orders. On November 28, 1861, for example, he had ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.
Prior to this date, different states scheduled their own Thanksgiving holiday on different dates, particularly New England and other northern states. Then on September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book who had been writing presidents for fifteen years to advocate for a national day of thanksgiving, wrote Lincoln. She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”
President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether.
Lincoln’s proclamation designates the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” The record shows that the proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward; the original was in his handwriting. The manuscript was sold a year later to benefit Union troops.
By the President of the United States of America.
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 unequaled magnitude and severity, . . 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, . . . 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. . . .
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
The italicized emphasis is added. Note the similarity between the last, italicized passage and the conclusion to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, which he would deliver seventeen months later.
Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, Library of America, p. 520-21.
Editor’s Note: Entries submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council.