Press/Journalists

The National Archives Celebrates Thanksgiving
Press Release · Monday, November 21, 2016

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 related images and these documents online.

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This page was last reviewed on November 21, 2016.
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