Minnesota's First Thanksgiving Proclamation

A look at the holiday through a historical lens

Thanksgiving Proclamation
photo courtesy of minnesota historical society

Thanksgiving Day in 1860 was certainly different from its contemporary incarnation. In Minnesota, which had become a state just two years prior, a freshly killed wild turkey and emphases on both pilgrim traditions and native foods made it a way for new immigrants to assimilate into American life. Minnesota had a lot to be thankful for, with its population and economy growing with its farming and logging industries. Still, Governor Ramsey’s proclamation also serves as an unsettling harbinger of turmoil to come: It was mere months before the outbreak of the Civil War and two years before the brutal Dakota War.

  1. The development of railroads led to a rise in commercial farming, with wheat as a major cash crop; farmers could collect 50 cents a bushel for wheat, compared to 25 cents a bushel for potatoes.

  2. The Financial Panic of 1857 had seen national immigration, land values, and consumerism all plummet.

  3. Ongoing tumult was happening in Europe and its colonies, including wars for Italian unification, revolts under Napoleon III, and land wars in New Zealand.

  4. Abraham Lincoln carried the vote in MN that year and would shortly be sworn in; he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

  5. In the decade before, Minnesota’s population boomed from 6,000 in 1851 to 150,000 in 1858.

  6. The state’s second governor served during the US-Dakota War of 1862 before being elected as U.S. senator.

  7. John H. Baker left his post after two years to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.


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