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President Abraham Lincoln is famous for so many wonderful, impressive, inspiring actions and words.

He gave us stirring arguments in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in his unsuccessful quest to unseat U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas. But the campaign battle laid the foundation for his eventual political triumphs.

After becoming the 16th president, he confronted the Civil War, one of our nation's darkest times.

From that tragic era came Lincoln's long remembered Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.

To finance that grim internecine battle, Lincoln signed into the law the country's first income tax. The Aug. 5, 1861 law imposed a 3 percent tax on annual incomes of more than $800.

And even as the battles that divided not only the country but families continued, Lincoln sought to find some good, some greater ideal around which all could unite.

That symbol of unity was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day proclamation turkey eagle vintage postcard

Garrison Keillor recounts this holiday's official creation in today's The Writer's Almanac:

   Today is Thanksgiving Day. Although the Thanksgiving festivities celebrated by the Pilgrims and a tribe of Wampanoag Indians happened in 1621, it wasn't until 1789 that the newly sworn-in President George Washington declared, in his first presidential proclamation, a day of national "thanksgiving and prayer" for that November.

   The holiday fell out of custom, though, and by the mid 1800s only a handful of states officially celebrated Thanksgiving, on a date of their choice. It was the editor of a women's magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow and the author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," who campaigned for a return of the holiday. For 36 years, she wrote articles about the Plymouth colonists in her magazine, trying to revive interest in the subject, and editorials suggesting a national holiday. Hale wrote to four presidents about her idea — Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — before her fifth letter got notice.

Abraham Lincoln   In 1863, exactly 74 years after Washington had made his proclamation, President Lincoln issued his own, asking that 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."

   He requested prayers especially for those widowed and orphaned by the ongoing Civil War, as well as gratitude for "fruitful fields," enlarging borders of settlements, abundant mines, and a burgeoning population.

So the man who taxed the citizenry to pay for a war to unite the nation also called upon us to remember, even in the most terrible of times, the ways in which we are blessed and the things for which we are thankful.

In these trying economic, political and social times, it's a message well worth remembering and taking to heart.

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