Katie Hall, reference archivist
Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving in some form since 1789. President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation in 1863 that Thanksgiving should fall on the last Thursday of November and for the most part, states celebrated the holiday at the end of the month. However, it wasn’t until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1941 that we began celebrating the holiday on the Fourth Thursday of November. The National Archives has that proclamation available online for all to see.
Between 1863 and 1941, before the day became a national holiday, presidents and state governors made annual Thanksgiving proclamations setting aside the day as one of thanksgiving and reflection. The Governors Papers Collection at the Delaware Public Archives has a nice selection of Thanksgiving proclamations from former Delaware governors’. Some invoke the “early settlers upon our shores, beset by hardships and perils,” like Governor Buck did in 1935:
In 1893, Governor Reynolds saw that Delawareans had been regarding Thanksgiving as “a day for indulgence in riotous living and worldly sports, contrary to the spirit in which the custom originated” and encouraged “the people of this State [to] lay aside all secular occupations” on that day:
In a similar vein, in 1901, Governor John Hunn recommended “that on that day all business of whatever character be suspended, and that the people assemble in their accustomed places of public worship, and there render thanks for those inestimable benefits which have been accorded them.”
Which proclamation is your favorite?