The National Archives Celebrates Thanksgiving
Press Release · Saturday, October 3, 1789
"Thanksgiving, like Ambassadors, Cabinet officers and others Smeared with political ointment, Depends for its existence on Presidential appointment." --Ogden Nash
Washington, DC…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. 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.”
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.
The three-page engrossed Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln is part of Record Group 11, General Records of the United States Government; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-2000, in the custody of the National Archives. The October Proclamation (Presidential Proclamation 2373) signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 31, 1939, is also part of Record Group 11 and the Presidential Proclamation series. The House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res. 41) is part of Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives held by the Center for Legislative Archives.
See additional related images and documents online.
- “Thanksgiving Around the World” - a blog post on President Wilsons post-World War I Thanksgiving outreach.
- President Harry Truman and turkey, 11/16/1949. But was that turkey pardoned? The Truman Library tackles this question at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/trivia/turkey.htm.
- President Richard Nixon and turkey, 11/18/1969.
- President George H. W. Bush Enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner with Troops, 11/22/1990.
- See additional images and video on Prologue Pieces of History blog: “Tasty tidbits for your Thanksgiving table.”
- President George Washington's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1789
- President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863 (Presidential Proclamation 106).
- The House Joint Resolution making the last Thursday in November a legal holiday, 12/26/41.
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For press information contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.
This page was last reviewed on August 15, 2016.
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