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Thomas Jefferson, the third U. S. president, believed in a firm separation between church and state. He refused to declare a day of prayerful thanksgiving, believing that it was improper for him to do so.
His two predecessors, George Washington and John Adams, had issued annual thanksgiving proclamations, as did James Madison, who succeeded him in office. After Madison, thanksgiving became something of a state-by-state matter until Abraham Lincoln convinced Congress to establish Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday.