Echoes of Politics and Thanksgivings Past

By Deb Kozikowski

I recently attended a lecture by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian and author of Team of Rivals, where she related an interesting story about President-elect Barack Obama. Before his election, Obama called Goodwin to ask what insight she had extracted from the many diaries and letters she’d reviewed while researching Abraham Lincoln’s famed cabinet of rivals. The two spoke for approximately 45 minutes.

It seems readily apparent from Goodwin’s anecdote, Obama has been planning to incorporate former opponents into his administration for some time. He is serious about bridging the gap.

In practice, Obama began healing the divide months ago, when he chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Next, he defended oft-outcast moderate Joe Lieberman’s place in the party. Then came the announcements of Eric Holder as Attorney General, New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, and economist Lawrence Summers to lead the National Economic Council, all veterans from the Clinton administration. It seems inevitable that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will land a high-priority post. Every decision since his nomination supports the idea that Obama has the confidence to arrange a diverse cabinet. Add to that, Obama’s obvious intellectual gifts: a Columbia University graduate and Harvard School of Law star, who was even derided for being “too smart.”

What I can’t understand is the hoopla surrounding the latest big cabinet question: will Hillary Clinton be the next Secretary of State or not? Hillary haters can’t seem to find a reason to support her ascension to a post she clearly has the skill and qualifications to hold. Some say she’ll use the position to control the new president’s foreign policy agenda, as a catapult into the presidency. The last Secretary of State that achieved the presidency was James Buchanan, more than one hundred and fifty years ago, a long shot by anyone’s standard.

Could it be the ultimate power play? Not likely. It makes little sense that a strong U.S. Senator in a majority party caucus would make gains as Secretary of State. Her power would not be “greater,” but rather, “different.” Furthermore, as Secretary of State, her power would be derived from the Office of the President. She would have a boss and while we all know there are times we disagree with our boss, we generally acquiesce to the wishes of the boss for fear of losing our job. Unless, of course, we are willing to quit… and we all know Hillary Clinton is no quitter.

Seward-Lincoln

Proclamation of Thanksgiving
Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders like this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She wrote, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.” The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary that he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow 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 to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them 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, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

I trust our new President-elect to choose as wisely.

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7 Responses to “Echoes of Politics and Thanksgivings Past”

  1. If Obama called her, I guess it would mean that he read the book, but you don’t say that.  Did she say he read her book?

  2. Yes, Ms. Kearns Goodwin did say that President-elect Obama read her book and that conversation was after he’d finished reading it.  Having attended the lecture reminded me that Carl Sandburg wrote a multi-volume Lincoln biography my husband read and loved (my husband is another Lincoln admirer).  I have decided I will check them out of my local library starting next week. Six volumes, I think.  That should keep me busy for awhile.  :-)

  3. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of RIvals” is applicable for any time but is especially so now.  I found that in her lecture she capsulized it well, though went somewhat long.  Her writing is both intelligent and insightful – two good reasons it would capture President-Elect Obama’s attention.  How exciting to have a thoughtful President willing to embrace differences of opinion, just as he recognized and reached out to a country lost to cynicism and mistrust, who seems willing and able to include us in the long difficult task of recovering ourselves.    Lincoln continues to inspire, as Ms. Kearns Goodwin so well reminds us.

  4. i admit that i have some trepidation but i trust president elect obama to do what is the right thing for our country too.

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1108/16057.html

  5. Today we got the answer to the question … no surprises really.  I believe this was a solid choice and that good things will come of this Team of Rivals philosophy.  And as an aside, my personal congratulations to author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin for great timing on her lecture!

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