Here, in short, are the documents that made Thanksgiving.
George Washington’s proclamation to give thanks for the Constitution and the country (ARC Identifier 299956)
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.” The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.
Page one of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Procalamation which set the holiday as the fourth Thursday in November (ARC 299960)
On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the midst of a bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation in which he enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
The House Joint Resolution Making the Last Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, Pearl Harbor had occured just over two weeks earlier (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives)
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy which was still recovering from the Depression. This move, which set off a national debate, was reversed in 1941 when Congress passed and President Roosevelt approved a joint house resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
For more information, please read our related press release. Happy Thanksgiving!
I was asked last week about the origins of Thanksgiving as an American holiday. From a distant cousin arrives these original documents from the National Archives showing (1) George Washington’s initiation of the holiday, (2) Abraham Lincoln’s settling on the last Thursday of November as the date, (3) Franklin Roosevelt moving it the third Thursday in 1939 to increase the Christmas shopping season, and FDR and congress finally settling on the fourth Thursday in 1941.