Giving credit where credit is due, Newt Gingrich tells the story of Sarah J. Buell. Ms. Buell is the person responsible for making Thanksgiving Day a national holiday, with the help of President Lincoln.
Born Sarah J. Buell on October 24, 1788, in Newport, New Hampshire, it was Sarah Josepha Hale's persistent petitions that brought about the holiday. She sent hundreds of letters to politicians including five presidents imploring them to institute a national day of thanksgiving.
Buell became one of the most influential women in the United States as the editor of the most widely circulated women's magazine called Godey's Lady's Book. She also penned "Mary Had a Little Lamb," the most-well-known poem in American history.
But it was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln received her letter in the midst of the Civil War that the New England tradition would become a national one. "If every state would join in Thanksgiving," she wrote, "would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution?" Lincoln agreed.
He set apart the last Thursday of November as a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." He called upon Americans "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, tranquility and Union."
Lincoln would issue three more Thanksgiving Proclamations from the White House. Subsequent presidents issued similar proclamations but the states chose different days for the thanksgiving observance. It was not until 1934 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that to “set aside in the autumn of each year a day on which to give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings of life is a wise and reverent custom, long cherished by our people." In 1941, the Congress made the third Thursday of November an official national holiday.