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We reflect this Thanksgiving on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. As False Claims Act lawyers and lovers of history, we have a particular reverence for him, the President given principal credit for conceiving of the need for a whistleblower statute to help stem the tide of contractor fraud during the Civil War. The False Claims Act – often referred to as the “Lincoln Law” – has helped the federal government recover billions of dollars on behalf of taxpayers.
There are of course many other reasons to admire President Lincoln, the author of some of the most aspirational and inspiring expressions of American political thought, such as the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and most impactful decisions, such as the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and applying pressure on Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery) before the end of the war, against long odds.
Lincoln is less well known for his role in establishing, on a national basis, the Thanksgiving holiday, that most uniquely American of holidays. He did so in October, 1863, in the darkest months of the prolonged American Civil War.
Thanksgiving had been observed more casually prior to that time and with considerable variation by region. Colonial settlers here in Massachusetts are credited with celebrating the first thanksgiving in the “New World” in 1621. Just after the formation of the United States by the ratification of the Constitution, George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to occur on November 26, 1789.
But in terms of making it a national day of celebration, applicable to all Americans, “in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands,” Lincoln gets the full credit for urging us to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November” expressly as a national day of gratitude and “humble penitence.”
It was, like so many of Lincoln’s writings and utterances, aspirational–this was, after all, the end of a third year of hideously brutal and inconclusive Civil War, with casualties mounting to unimaginable numbers, with no realistic end in sight, and increasing calls for an end to the conflict even at the price of disunion.
He reminded us that despite all of the distractions of the armed conflict between our fellow citizens, there were still “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” In the ultimate expression of the-glass-is half-full, he said: “In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity…, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict.” So he deemed that it would be fitting and proper that these blessings should be “solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.” His was a call for gratitude, humility, and unity.
We all observe Thanksgiving today in our own unique ways. Some eat turkey and pies; some grill tofu. Many of us suffer through highway traffic to be with loved ones. But however we observe it, we all share, even in these challenging times, ties of the history that binds us together and the gift of a government that still aspires, in its best days, to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Here at the Whistleblower Law Collaborative, we are enormously grateful for so many things: for our courageous clients, for a free press and the right to speak truth to power, for the quiet and professional ways in which talented but unrecognized government lawyers and investigators do their jobs, for our colleagues in the whistleblower bar, and for idealists everywhere who want to make this world a more peaceful, more fair, and more just place.