Here's a fine piece in The Wall Street Journal on the holiday, for the holiday and by the holiday. Or something like that.
Election Day has come and gone, and after one of the most divisive campaigns in memory, “healing” seems to be the word of the hour. What better time to begin than Thanksgiving, which Benjamin Franklin called a day of “public Felicity” to give thanks for our “full enjoyment of Liberty, civil and religious.” Thanksgiving, our nation’s oldest tradition, is a moment to focus on our blessings as Americans, on what unites us, not on what divides us.
Such was the case in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln called for a national Thanksgiving celebration. He did so at the urging of a farsighted magazine editor who believed that a Thanksgiving celebration would have a “deep moral influence” on the American character, helping to bring together the country, which was divided over the issue of slavery. Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation was the first in the unbroken string of annual Thanksgiving proclamations by every subsequent president. It is regarded as the beginning of our modern Thanksgiving holiday.
Lincoln’s call for a national Thanksgiving was different from the thanksgivings he or Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, had called in the early years of the Civil War to express gratitude to God for specific Union or Confederate military victories. Rather, in 1863 Lincoln asked Americans to give thanks for the nation’s general blessings. It was the first time since George Washington led the country that a president proclaimed a day of general Thanksgiving.