Though the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1621, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln codified the holiday as an American tradition. It was only a few short years more before someone tried to exclude the Jews.
In 1868, Governor John W. Geary of Pennsylvania issued a proclamation, a how-to guide for celebrating Thanksgiving. He wrote:
“Unto God our Creator we are indebted for life and all its blessings…Let us thank Him with Christian humility for health and prosperity.” Later in the proclamation, he urges his constituency to pray that “our paths through life may be directed by the example and instructions of the Redeemer, who died that we may enjoy the blessings which temporarily flow therefrom, and eternal life in the world to come.”
This was kind of a bummer for Pennsylvanian Jews. So much so that all 7 of Philadelphia’s rabbis published a protest in The Occident, the first English-language Jewish paper in the States. Geary’s words, they wrote, “intended to exclude Israelites,” and was “universally [understood to be] an offense against liberty of conscience, unbecoming a public functionary, and derogatory to the honor of the noble state he represents.”
Despite the rousing rebuttal, Geary failed to revoke the proclamation. He probably never saw the op-ed.