Written by By Alix Burgess, CNN
1 / 19 President Abraham Lincoln delivers a speech at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, on November 12, 1860. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Though most Americans today associate Thanksgiving with family, country and turkey, a rich history of abolitionist activity reaches far beyond the tumultuous 18th century.
In fact, President Abraham Lincoln once opened an event celebrating two of the strongest presences on the American political scene with lines that strike today as remarkably blunt:
“There was a time when it was objected by the slaveholders that we could not hold our great new country together by ignoring the immense injustice of the slave trade, but that our sorrow and grief should be reserved until we had smashed that cruel trade which made us into a miserable, degraded people,” he said in 1864.
“The fact is that we must speak our minds; or this great experiment cannot survive.”
Although they are primarily known for their roles in the American Civil War and the nation’s abolition, Lincoln’s more muted anti-slavery sentiments made an immediate impact beyond the North. Thanks to his removal of pardons and executive orders for slaves held in America, Lincoln’s anti-slavery views continued to animate abolitionists long after his life was over.
The poet and abolitionist Josiah Johnson penned the first poem about Thanksgiving to be published and gained widespread attention when he read it in August 1846, two years after Lincoln first spoke about the national holiday.
The poem opens by referring to the president’s anti-slavery speech and ends with the call for abolition:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
Blessed are they, because they shall inherit the Earth.
They shall have good harvests, and abundant food.
They shall enjoy the Sabbath, and rest,
A rest that man never knew, until President Lincoln.
Blessed are they that remember Abraham Lincoln.”
1 / 15 Getty Images James C. Wines in 1849. The young Union Navy officer was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, by a slave mother and an able-bodied white father. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his historical novel, “Eight Days That Changed America.” Wines died on the USS Maine a year later.
Masterpiece’s ongoing “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is one of the best in the genre and aptly cements Johnson’s role as the leading writer on Thanksgiving, with its interpretation of Lincoln’s family and his relation to slaves.