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Iowa History Daily: March 30 - Thanksgiving's Iowa Origins

Iowa History Daily: On March 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared a “National Fast Day” after a congressional resolution originating from Iowa Senator James Harlan. The “Fast Day” sought to set aside a day of national “prayer and humiliation,” and the series of days of reflection eventually led to Lincoln’s proclamation creating a day of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November.

In Lincoln’s proclamation, the President said: “nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins…” Harlan proposed the day as the American Civil War continued to rage during the early months of 1863.

Harlan initially moved to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1845 in order to serve as Superintendent of Schools for the soon to become capital city of the state. While in Iowa City, Harlan studied law and passed the bar in 1850. Also in 1850, the Whig Party nominated Harlan for governor. However, he declined the nomination. After briefly serving as the President of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, the Iowa legislature elected Harlan to the United States Senate. In 1861, Harlan attended the Peace Conference held in the hopes of averting the onset of the American Civil War. In the aftermath of the war, Harlan went on to serve as President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of the Interior. Today, Harlan’s memory lives in the western Iowa town bearing his name.

During the Civil War, Harlan faithfully served under his good friend Abraham Lincoln. Harlan’s daughter, Mary Eunice, even married Lincoln’s son Robert Todd in 1868. As the Civil War continued to intensify during late 1862 and early 1863, Harlan put forth the resolution to hold a day of fasting and prayer. The third of nine such days of fasting, prayer, or thanksgiving proclaimed by Lincoln during his Presidency, the day proposed by Harlan immediately preceded the “National Day of Thanksgiving” proclaimed by Lincoln following the American victory at Gettysburg on July 15, 1863, a forerunner to the annual Thanksgiving holiday celebrated on the final Thursday of November each year. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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