Lesson Plans

Early National

Why was there a Campaign for a National Thanksgiving Holiday during the Jacksonian Era?
Author: Heidi Willard
School: Northwood High
Grade Level: 8th
Time Estimated: 3 days

Enduring Understanding

Women have been a vital part of early American society, though their roles seemingly focused on domestication. However, women have come into the forefront of American society during times of strife to not only protect home and children, but also to protect and promote those ideals held dear. What role did women play within society in the emergence of humanitarian reform? What issues were prominent in early society that was pivotal in the work of women? And, what role did women typically play in the emergence of Jacksonian era reform? Is it possible that the real issue for the common good was abolition? Sarah Hale was an abolitionist, though genteel, and she's inspired by evangelical reform. How did the arguments for abolition become a humanitarian mainstream issue?

Between 1825 and 1850, societal concerns in the Jacksonian era were evolving in the early days of our country as our foundation became more firmly entrenched from the interpretation of the Constitution through early Supreme Court cases. The Jacksonian era, 20 years, saw the abolition of slavery go from a radical fringe position to the center of American politics for example. How did middle class American women come to embrace abolitionism? People began to feel the impact upon their everyday lives in ways that effected not only their social environment, but also their economies. It is from the regional economic shifts that bore witness to the Second Great Awakening begun in the New England region. The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious movement that laid a foundation in the late 1790's from which many social reform movements gained power nationally. Social reform movements were organized efforts by a specific group of people to change a perceived problem in society, many times laying the framework for future endeavors in which there was not only popular sovereignty, but a sense of social leveling among the peoples of society.

The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival that gave new applications to the older European Enlightenment ideals of democracy and freedom. Reformers attempted to resolve societal concerns as rights for women, restricted educational opportunities, rights for people with disabilities, and slavery. Causing a shift in thinking, these reform movements lobbied for public policy changes that would improve the lives of those less fortunate as well as provide the base from which society moved toward a more humanitarian way of thinking. This concept is important in the thinking of America because the Second Great Awakening differed from the First Great Awakening in that society believed they had the right to choose whether or not to believe in God, as opposed to the previous ideals of Calvinism and predestination (see an analysis of the Manifest Destiny document for more information). Accordingly to Charles G. Finney, a Presbyterian, but non-Calvinist minister, the primary role of the early church was to reform society. In 1834, he said, "When the churches are . . . awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow." Finney had been influenced by the Second Great Awakening ideals as had others such as Lyman Beecher, Alexander and Thomas Campbell (early leaders of the Restoration Movement), Peter Cartwright (Methodist), and Joseph J. Smith (founder of Mormonism) to name a few. These prominent figures in early American society spread the relief of uncorrupted Christianity among the immigrants who seemed to think that the tradition bound European churches were out of place in America's pristine land. In this way, the Second Great Awakening helped to expand the newly embraced democratic ideals by bettering the moral standards of the everyday working man. While stressing the ideal of "free labor" this was not always appealing to the working man during the Jacksonian era as he grasps for an understanding of what exactly does it mean to have moral standards? Slavery is a labor issue, and evangelicals tended to stress the idea that free labor was always better. Indeed, what they meant by "free labor" did not always appeal to the working man.

There were several factors that made the restoration sentiment appealing during the early 1800's. Democracy seemed to the people to be a breath of fresh air for people escaping religious persecution in other parts of the world. Secondly, there was the thought that America as a new nation was ushering in a new millennial age with the coming of the Hailey's comet embracing an ethereal view. Third, independence from the European churches appealed to the new American's who were simultaneously nurturing a new political independence too. The coming of the new age in America meant that social responsibility was the way to sidestep the traditional European views of looking the other way from those who suffered indignities, from poverty, and persecutions of various kinds. In this way interest groups formed in communities that began to do more than to provide baskets of food to those in need during cold winter months.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was my relative who was singlehandedly responsible for establishing the holiday of Thanksgiving through her communication with President Lincoln. She accomplished this feat through letter writing and building relationships. Mrs. Hale wanted families to join together in a day of literal thanksgiving (prayer) in order to end slavery. A New England Presbyterian church member, she was caught up in the middle of the Second Great Awakening and used this fervor to achieve what she considered to be a social problem. Her first treatise on the subject appeared in a chapter of her novel, Northwood; or Life North and South, which lauded the virtue of the New England manner of living over the decadence of the south. Mrs. Hale, Editor, used Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine as a platform to launch her 30 year campaign to make the last Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving Day.

This lesson will explore the personal conscience of American holidays that our social reformers confronted. While Thanksgiving was apolitical thankfulness, the 4th of July was agenda oriented and aggressive. Students will look at the alternative ways to build nationalism and how Mrs. Hale made her appeal.


This lesson will examine Sarah Josepha Buell Hale's contribution to the invention of Thanksgiving, in order to examine the social, moral and ethical virtues middle class Americans advanced during the Jacksonian era. The students will analyze primary sources to examine S.J.B.H., as a social reformer during the Second Great Awakening, contribution to the invention of Thanksgiving in order to critique social, moral, and ethical virtues middle class Americans advanced during the Jacksonian era. Students will respond to a DBQ writing prompt to demonstrate understanding and analysis of how differences in the goals of national holidays affected political conscientiousness in the building of nationalism. Students will also design a classroom exhibit, like a museum room, for fun, using a shutterfold (foldable) on social reform integrating the letters written by S.J.B.H.


Unit 8.3: "Geographic and Economic Change Shape the Nation, 1815-1850"
Lesson 4: "Social Reformers React to Change"


Primary Source Handouts

(Consider color copying for students and either laminating or putting these handouts into plastic sleeves for future lesson use.)

  • Pre-reading, During Reading, and Post Reading Activities:
    • Pre-reading handout. (The pre-reading strategy includes a photograph of Sarah Josepha Buell Hale for close reading with a word splash for vocabulary building.
    • The during reading strategy includes guided questions for contextualizing and underlining key words or phrases to guide students' responses for the DBQ.
    • Post-reading handout. (The post reading strategy includes completion of the 3 circled Venn diagram to use for student response to the DBQ and the homework project assignment.)
  • Primary Source 1: The letter Sarah Josepha Buell Hale handwrote to President Lincoln requesting that the national holiday of Thanksgiving be put aside as prayer for the abolishment of slavery. Also includes a typed interpretation.
  • Primary Source 2: The proclamation from President Lincoln proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving and praise set apart.
  • Primary Source 3: An excerpt from the writings of George Washington, Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, assigning Thursday the 26th day of November to be devoted by the people of the United States as the first national Thanksgiving Day, as proclaimed under the Constitution.
  • Primary Source 4: House Joint Resolution 250 from the 101st Congress, designating July 4th as national holiday (1989). Congressional support for the national holiday (over a 100 years later).
  • Primary Source 5: What to the slave is the 4th of July? Teachers Tip: This primary source is an account of the violent and turbulent holiday of the Jacksonian era. You may want to explain the rationale to students.


  • Document Based Question Assignment
  • Homework Assignment: Directions for designing a shutterfold (foldable)
    • Teacher Tip: Consider booking time in your media center to assist the students to start their homework project on the second day. Be sure to ask your media specialist to bookmark the site to be used to print letters from S.J.B.H.
    • Teacher Tip: Like for the primary sources to look old? Let students know that they may use a brown ink stampers' pad lightly smeared across the printed documents, or they may quickly immerse the printed documents into brewed tea and dry on paper towels.
  • Grading Rubric for the Visual Presentations
    • Teacher Tip: To ensure your technology works, have your Promethean Board with links already set up. You might consider having the 3 circled Venn diagram graphic organizer already drawn for the Promethean board.


I found the following worked well for instructional implementation: 1 session for MCPS lesson 4; 1 session for individual reformer amd start project; and, 1 session for student oral presentations of homework project. I did expect the students to complete the shutterfold activity outside of class.

Teacher Tip: You may choose to assign the due date to give students additional time for completion to encourage students to emphasize quality work.

Day 1

  1. Lead the students in the Pre-reading activity as a warm-up using Primary Source #1 to introduce them to language that will be useful for analyzing the primary sources. Continue with your lesson format using Primary Sources 2, 3, 4, and 5. Apply during reading activity. Students will read and analyze the excerpts in the primary sources that correspond with the concept of social reform and nationalism. Provide students with a 3 circled Venn diagram graphic organizer so that they can compare and contrast the primary sources for close reading and contextualizing nationalism.

Day 2

  1. Complete the Venn diagram about social reform and nationalism focusing more closely on the dynamics of July 4th as an aggressive, dangerous holiday with a political agenda and Thanksgiving as more apolitical with a gratitude agenda. Students will use the information they learn during reading activity to respond to the DBQ. Introduce the DBQ using the first document as a whole class guided practice and then asking students to complete the other documents as a homework assignment. Take students to media center for research on the computers to download letters needed in homework assignment. Explain the assignment and give due date. Students should have at least 40 minutes in the media center to be effective.

Day 3

  1. Continue class with the oral presentations on the homework assignment. Be sure to connect the homework assignments for the students during your closure. Using an exit card is one way to ensure students can apply the concept of social reform to the concept of nationalism.


See Procedures section.

References: Web

David Waldstreicher. "The Invention of the Fourth of July." History Now, Issue 4 (June 2005), The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.http://www.gilderlehrman.org/historynow/06_2005/historian5.php
This is a resource for teachers to expand knowledge base about the 4th of July holiday for the students' Venn diagram use.
Catherine Clinton. "Giving Thanks: Women Move to Create a Holiday." History Now, Issue 4 (June 2005), The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.http://www.gilderlehrman.org/historynow/06_2005/historian3.php
This is a resource for teachers to expand knowledge base about the Thanksgiving holiday for the students' Venn diagram use.
Library of Congress. "Thanksgiving: Primary Source Set." Teachers.http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/thanksgiving/
This website provides a collection of primary sources including Sarah J. B. Hale's letter to President Lincoln, President Lincoln's 1863 "Thanksgiving Proclamation," and a "Proclamation for a Publick Thanksgiving" from 1721. Text-based primary sources also include transcriptions.
Abraham Lincoln. "Blessings of Fruitful Fields." President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. October 3, 1863. In Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts. Edited by Roy Edgar Appleman. Washington, DC: National Park Service, Source Book Series No. Two, 1942.http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/source/sb2/sb2w.htm
The proclamation from President Lincoln proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving and praise set apart.
Frederick Douglass. "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Speech delivered July 5, 1852. TeachingAmericanHistory.org, Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=162
United States Congress. Thomas. The Library of Congress.http://thomas.loc.gov/

References: Books & Media

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. A Tale of New England. Volume 1. Boston: Bowles & Dearborn, 1827http://books.google.com/books?id=zgkUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP4#v=onepage&q&f=false
Meg Crager. Macy's Thanksgiving Book. Edited by Naomi Black. New York, NY: A Quarto Book, 1986.
Elizabeth Pleck. "The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States." Journal of Social History. 32:4 (Summer 1999): 773-789.