About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

Greetings from the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to this virtual book talk with Denise Kiernan, author of We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace.

Today’s program is presented in partnership with the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, and we thank them for their support.

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Our annual Thanksgiving holiday is just two days away. This year will be very different from past years, as we attempt to adapt to a national health crisis, but the core idea of a day of thanksgiving remains the same: taking time to reflect and express gratitude.

In her book We Gather Together, Denise Kiernan looks back over centuries of the concept of showing gratitude as a community. In our own nation, Presidents have declared national days of thanksgiving, but not as a regular, recurring holiday until President Abraham Lincoln.

The National Archives holdings contain the first U.S. Thanksgiving proclamation—by George Washington in 1789—and subsequent ones, through the Presidency of Barack Obama. Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation is there as well and has a central role in the book we’ll hear about today.

In the mid-19th century, Sarah Josepha Hale campaigned for decades for an annual day of thanksgiving observed throughout the United States. She finally had success with President Lincoln. His three-page proclamation, written in the midst of the Civil War, began with an expression of gratitude for a year “filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies” and concluded with an appeal to God “to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it . . . to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

Since then, we have set aside a day of national thanksgiving every November to stop and consider what makes us truly thankful.

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Now it is my pleasure to welcome our guests.

Denise Kiernan is an author, journalist, and producer. Her bestselling books include The Last Castle and The Girls of Atomic City.  She has also worked in television, serving as head writer for ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during its Emmy award-winning first season.

Karen Abbott is the author of bestselling books including American Rose and The Ghosts of Eden Park. She has appeared on the History Channel, CBS Sunday Morning, and the Discovery Channel.

Let’s turn now to Denise Kiernan and Karen Abbott.

Thank you for joining us today.