In the winter of 1865, President Andrew Johnson declared a day of celebration would be observed throughout the
newly reunited nation on December 7. In Mississippi, the former citizens of the Confederacy, mourning both a lost nation and many lost loved ones, the call for a day of Thanksgiving was mostly ignored. One newspaper editor, however, felt this was the wrong course, and made his argument on the pages of his publication:
We copy the following manly and sensible article from the ‘Canton Citizen.’ We are always glad to see the paper, for its editor is, in his writing, a man after our own heart:
THANKSGIVING DAY – IT WAS NOT OBSERVED.
Thursday, the seventh day of December, the day set apart by Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, as a day of thanksgiving ‘for the mercies of God, and for the blessings of peace,’ came duly around and occupied its appropriate place in the calendar. It’s bright sunlight, so grateful a contrast to the day preceding, and its stirring invigorating atmosphere, were well calculated to inspire feelings of gladness and thankfulness. But the shops were all kept open, and the marts of trade frequented as usual. The bell of but one church sounded out its invitation to worship, and its call was obeyed by two pious souls beside the pastor.
How is this? Why is this? Have we nothing to be thankful for as a people, as individuals? Yes, all will admit the causes of gratitude and praise to Almighty God are innumerable: but some say, ‘we do not recognize the propriety of the call to give thanks by our captors, those at whose hands we have received such insults and injuries. What they think causes of gratitude, are, to us, rather sources of lamentation.’
It is all true that we have had the issues of this war far different from what it is; it is true that our fondest hopes were based, like the value of your money, on the ‘ratification of a treaty of peace between the Confederate States and the United States of America,’ achieved by the success of our arms. But this never came, never can come. We weep over our failure; our hearts are buried with our noble dead, and though their lives were sacrificed for nought, at least as far as success was concerned, yet will they ever live in our memories, and to them will ever be accorded the highest, the most glorious niche in our Temple of Fame. we have no sort of fellow-feeling, whatever with the man who has been in the South for four years past, whose heart does not beat in living sympathy with everything Confederate. Its failure was ours, its sorrows were ours; its bereavements fell in common upon us all; its glories – and, nothwithstanding its failure, it has glories, bright, undying glories – are ours, and inspire a joyful thrill in our hearts.
Now, this very commendable spirit which enshrines in our hearts the memory of our departed heroes, and makes us glad and willing to assume, and heroically bear up what the world may choose to call the obloquy of our course, illy comports with the sham of surrendering to our captors, of laying down our arms at their feet, and protesting we will not take them up again, and at the same time in all matters, where we dare do it, disregarding their authority, and acting as if we were separate people.
A truly brave man when he is overpowered and cries enough, is done with the thing: if an agreement is made between him and his adversary, though it is distasteful to him, he keeps it in good faith; he would realize that to speak evil of the compact, and go as far toward breaking it as he dare, would not only be ignoble, but would also do himself harm. After he failed after an honest effort, he submits and makes the best of it.
So it should be with our Confederacy. We have been overpowered; we have asked to be taken back into the Union; we have sued for executive clemency; and we will brand ourselves as hypocrites and craven spirits if we do not adjust ourselves, as far as we can, to our changed condition, and carry out in good faith our part of the agreement.
Once, it was noble, it was brave, it was righteous, to be a rebel to the core, to indulge no feeling of compromise with the people at war with us, but that time is past; by our consent we are citizens of the government against which we rebelled, and to keep up the old feelings of animosity now, is acting in bad faith; it is wicked and ungenerous.
If it is right to go to Washington City and implore Andy Johnson’s pardon, and his restoration of property, thus acknowledging his authority, then it was also right to acknowledge the propriety of his appointing a day of Thanksgiving, and, as a Christian and sincere people, to have observed it in good faith, giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings he has sent and for the curses he has averted.
– Reprinted in the Natchez Daily Courier, December 19, 1865