Taking time to recognize one’s blessings – an autumn day is as American as … pumpkin pie! In New England, the tradition of a day of Thanksgiving dates back to 1621 when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest. The members of the Continental Congress declared in 1777 after the victory of the Continental Army at Saratoga, that all peoples of the colonies give thanks for this new nation.
Among the many accomplishments, renowned Mason and Founding Father, George Washington, is noted for issuing a proclamation, following a recommendation by the Federal Congress in 1789, that all Americans should celebrate Thursday, November 26th as a “Day of Public Thanksgiving”.
Many Presidents in the coming years would continue the tradition of asking our citizens to set aside a day to be thankful for God’s blessing on America. However, the dates and even the month of “Thanksgiving Day” varied from one presidential administration to another in the decades to come.
It was not until 1939 when another Freemason, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, issued a proclamation calling for the “second to last Thursday in November” to be recognized as an official national holiday. This produced a lot of “gobbling” from politicians and created considerable partisan discourse.
Many historians believe that Roosevelt was trying to gain political capital by choosing a date for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was felt by many at the time that FDR was trying to ensure that the date of “Turkey Day” not be pushed to the very end of the month in order to provide consumers with an extra week to shop for Christmas presents – thus giving a boost to President Roosevelt’s economic recovery plan in the midst of the Depression.
Roosevelt’s decision was not without controversy in Washington and around the USA. Only 23 out of the then 48 states adhered to FDR’s presidential proclamation and celebrated Thanksgiving on the third week of November. The remaining legislatures and governors balked at Roosevelt’s order and maintained that their residents would celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday a week later on the last Thursday of the month as it had traditionally been done since the era of Abraham Lincoln.
Two years later, with Roosevelt still in the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution naming the last Thursday in each November to be officially recognized as Thanksgiving. The Senators, however, amended the resolution to read that the fourth Thursday of November should be recognized as America’s official Thanksgiving Day. The House of Representatives finally agreed and FDR signed the resolution into law on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1941.