More than 150 years ago Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. This had become a custom of governors and presidents since 1789 when the nation’s first president, George Washington, asked Americans to give thanks for the positive end to the Revolutionary War, and for the grand year that had passed.
1860 was a tumultuous year, an election year, and a year that would mark the beginning of this nation’s Civil War. But in Governor Ramsey’s proclamation, there is no hint to the five years of bloodshed that is about to befall the United States.
While foreign lands are convulsed by revolution, and exposed to the horrors of civil war, our citizens from every nation under Heaven, are tolerant and in the midst of the excitement incident to a Presidential election, maintain the courtesies of life, exhibiting the power of self-government to a high degree.
Less than one month after this proclamation, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and four months later the first battle of the Civil War was fought at Fort Sumter. Four years and 620,000 lives later, a United States would emerge vastly different from the one that proclaimed thanks on the final Thursday in November, 1860. Ramsey’s order is a reminder that the gifts of the past should not be taken for granted, for the future can hold a far different outcome than what we can see today.
As I look back on the past year I give thanks for all that I have accomplished—finishing a book, promoting it, starting a second, and the wonderful outpouring of support I have received from the people of the Mesabi Range and Minnesota. And I look forward to the hope that next year might bring a future full of bright promise. Even as I hope for that bright future, I toil daily on the charge I have issued to myself: to tell the story of the immigrants and their families who came to Minnesota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who carved towns out of the deep forest, and who built a culture that lasts to this day.