A Day of Thanksgiving for the President-Elect and President Alike

Thursday, November 29, 1860 (Thanksgiving, Unofficial)

Though Thanksgiving would not be a nationally-celebrated holiday until 1863, by the mid-1800s, it was a fairly well established unofficial holiday, much as we celebrate it now.

The Lincoln Family attended services at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield and then partook of a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. Lincoln, however, spent the rest of the day in the thankless task of reading the mail (both fan and hate) that had been pouring in from across the country. There were, of course, many congratulations, but there were also “senseless fulminations and, in a few instances, disgraceful threats and indecent drawings.” There was “the advice of patriots,” as well as “seditious pamphlets and manifestos.” According to this same source, Henry Villard, a journalist and friend of Lincoln, also within the piled up mail were instances of “Female forwardness and inquisitiveness.”1


While Lincoln certainly had much to be thankful for on this day, President Buchanan probably had more. His panicked vexation that the secessionist mobs of Charleston would assail the forts and slaughter all inside would today be relaxed.

At the urging of the Assistant Secretary of State, William Henry Trescot, Governor Gist of South Carolina replied to a letter expressing the President’s fears. Although South Carolina would most definitely be leaving the Union, the Secession Convention would not convene until December 12.

I have found great difficulty in restraining the people of Charleston from seizing the forts, and have only been able to restrain them by the assurance that no additional troops would be sent to the forts, or any munitions of war. Everything is now quiet, and will remain so until the ordinance is passed, if no more soldiers or munitions of war are sent on. That is to say, I will use my utmost efforts to effect that object, and believe I will succeed; but the Legislature and myself would be powerless to prevent a collision if a single soldier or another gun or ammunition is sent on to be placed in the forts.

He also warned that he would be unable to promise peace “if a single soldier or another gun or ammunition is sent.” Gist closed with the hope that Buchanan would not “light the torch of discord which will only be quenched in blood.”2

Though this wasn’t much to be thankful for, the threat seemed to be pushed back farther than before, it would have to be enough for now.

  1. From Lincoln: President-Elect by Harold Holzer, Simon & Shuster, 2008. []
  2. Quotes from The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861 By Samuel Wylie Crawford, C. L. Webster & Company, 1887. Later research shows that the dates may be a bit foggy, but that’s how it goes. []
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A Day of Thanksgiving for the President-Elect and President Alike by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “A Day of Thanksgiving for the President-Elect and President Alike

  1. One is left to wonder how much the outgoing president and the president elect were in communication regarding the imminent conflict. Was Lincoln informed regularly of these changes in the degree of ominous and impending danger? Did Buchanan keep his concerns to himself for fear of appearing weak and ineffectual? Did he consider himself cautious, or was he desperately hoping to avoid being in the hot seat when the fires of rebellion were lit?

    1. Surprisingly, there was basically no communication at all. Lincoln wasn’t kept up to date (aside from some friends in Washington) and Buck didn’t go out of his way to do much at all, let alone communicating with Lincoln. Mostly, Buck just wanted to keep things quiet until he was out of office. You’ll see, it gets really fun really soon.

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