Because of his tragically short presidency, there were many things which James Garfield did not have the opportunity to do as President of the United States. One of those was to declare a national day of thanksgiving. This was a long standing tradition in American history, but it had been formalized into an annual event ever since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln called for the fourth Thursday in November to be a day of giving thanks. In the years before Garfield's presidency, the president had issued a proclamation in October or November declaring a day of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, by that point in 1881, Garfield had died of wounds from his assassination.
Thus, it was up to Garfield's successor, the 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, to issue a proclamation of Thanksgiving that year. On November 4, 1881, Arthur issued the following proclamation, declaring November 24, 1881, 134 years ago today, to be a day of thanksgiving for the nation, just over two months after Garfield's death.
By the President of the United States of America
It has long been the pious custom of our people, with the closing of the year, to look back upon the blessings brought to them in the changing course of the seasons and to return solemn thanks to the all giving source from whom they flow. And although at this period, when the failing leaf admonishes us that the time of our sacred duty is at hand, our nation still lies in the shadow of a great bereavement, and the mourning which has filled our hearts still finds its sorrowful expression toward the God before whom we but lately bowed in grief and supplication, yet the countless benefits which have showered upon us during the past twelvemonth call for our fervent gratitude and make it fitting that we should rejoice with thankfulness that the Lord in His infinite mercy has most signally favored our country and our people. Peace without and prosperity within have been vouchsafed to us, no pestilence has visited our shores, the abundant privileges of freedom which our fathers left us in their wisdom are still our increasing heritage; and if in parts of our vast domain sore affliction has visited our brethren in their forest homes, yet even this calamity has been tempered and in a manner sanctified by the generous compassion for the sufferers which has been called forth throughout our land. For all these things it is meet that the voice of the nation should go up to God in devout homage.
Wherefore I, Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States, do recommend that all the people observe Thursday, the 24th day of November instant, as a day of national thanksgiving and prayer, by ceasing, so far as may be, from their secular labors and meeting in their several places of worship, there to join in ascribing honor and praise to Almighty God, whose goodness has been so manifest in our history and in our lives, and offering earnest prayers that His bounties may continue to us and to our children.
In witness 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 4th day of November, A.D. 1881, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and sixth.
CHESTER A. ARTHUR
President of the United States
JAMES G. BLAINE,
Secretary of State