Sunday, November 27, 2011

TR's 1901 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The Thanksgiving proclamations of George Washington (November 26, 1789) and Abraham Lincoln (November 26, 1863) are usually noted in any serious discussion of the American holiday, as well they should be. But every president since Lincoln has issued annual Thanksgiving Day proclamations, both before and after the 1941 law fixing the day as a federal holiday.

Theodore Roosevelt had a particularly delicate task in 1901, proclaiming a day of thanksgiving despite the recent violent murder of the popular William McKinley. This is how he handled it in a proclamation dated November 2, 1901:

"This Thanksgiving finds the people still bowed with sorrow for the death of a great and good President. We mourn President McKinley because we so loved and honored him; and the manner of his death should awaken in the breasts of our people a keen anxiety for the country, and at the same time a resolute purpose not to be driven by any calamity from the path of strong, orderly, popular liberty which as a nation we have thus far safely trod.

"Yet in spite of this great disaster, it is nevertheless true that no people on earth have such abundant cause for thanksgiving as we have. The past year in particular has been one of peace and plenty. We have prospered in things material and have been able to work for our own uplifting in things intellectual and spiritual. Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us; and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds. We can best prove our thankfulness to the Almighty by the way in which on this earth and at this time each of us does his duty to his fellow men.

"Now, Therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do hereby designate as a day of general thanksgiving Thursday, the 28th of this present November, and do recommend that throughout the land the people cease from their wonted occupations, and at their several homes and places of worship reverently thank the Giver of all good for the countless blessings of our national life."

As it happened, more than 60 years later the last presidential proclamation issued by John Kennedy was his 1963 Thanksgiving proclamation, dated November 5, for a holiday that took place six days after his death.

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