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Washington/Canadian-Media: The White House has for long been celebrating Thanksgiving but in addition to giving thanks, the presidency has a long history with the holiday, Library of Congress (LoC) reports said.
Image: The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), November 30, 1899. Image credit: LoC.
Although Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but prior to 1941, Thanksgiving was observed whenever the President proclaimed it to be as it had no fixed date on the calendar.
A proclamation for the holiday on this day was made for the first time in 1789 by President George Washington, designating Thursday, November 26 “for the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving.” marking the first national celebration of the holiday under the new Constitution.
Image: “A Proclamation.” Gazette of the United-States (New York, NY), October 7, 1789. Image credit: LoC
Thomas Jefferson declined to make a proclamation in 1801 as he thought that if he supported the holiday, it would mean he was supporting state-sponsored religion since Thanksgiving is rooted in Puritan religious traditions.
At the time, Jefferson’s political foes, the Federalists used his stance on the separation of church and state as a political weapon to try and convince Americans that he was an atheist.
Jefferson addressed Federalist accusations in letters by explaining that he considered declaring fasts or days of thanksgiving to be expressions of religion and that he opposed them because they were remnants of Britain’s reign over the American colonies and he believed in “a wall of separation between Church and State” which made him open to Federalist political attacks.
He later explained he could not endorse such a holiday without conflicting with the First Amendment. He also considered days of thanksgiving the responsibility of the states, not the federal government.
Image: Nogales International (Nogales, AZ), November 25, 1939. Image credit: LoC
Between 1846-1863, influential author and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Sarah Josepha Hale, petitioned Congress and five different presidents (Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln) to create a national annual holiday for Thanksgiving. She finally succeeded when in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday in November with his message to the nation to heal its wounds and restore “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
Image: “They Gave us our Thanksgiving Holiday,” The Midland Journal (Rising Sun, MD), November 17, 1933. Image credit: LoC.
Image: Lincoln’s proclamation. Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 26, 1916. Image credit: LoC.
Franklin Roosevelt who became a president in 1933 designated the last Thursday of November for the observation of Thanksgiving. After observing Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November the level of public outrage led Congress to pass a law (77 H. J. Res. 41) on December 26, 1941, making the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving.
Image: “Bill ‘Freezing’ Date of Thanksgiving Signed,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), December 27, 1941. Image credit: LoC
While presiding over the the first live turkey ceremony by the Poultry and Egg National Board in 1947, President Harry S. Truman established the event as an annual tradition at the White House. Originally, presentation birds intended for the Thanksgiving meal and were given to presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1963 to 1967 which had signs around their necks that read “Good Eating Mr. President.”