Call me old-fashioned, but one thing I am always thankful for every Thanksgiving is the blessing of not having Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House.
After all, of all the heroes of the American progressive movement, few have quite the record of sins as FDR. The man routinely celebrated in the halls of academia was guilty of Japanese internment camps, stealing Americans’ gold, prolonging the Great Depression, and establishing a number of Federal agencies that continue to haunt the American economy today. But perhaps one of the most absurd examples of Roosevelt’s Presidential arrogance was his attempt in 1939 to move Thanksgiving a week earlier than its traditional date as the last Thursday Thanksgiving in November.
The President’s motivation would have earned the approval of his friend John Maynard Keynes. The country was still suffering from the Great Depression and some prominent retailers were concerned that since the holiday fell on the unusually late date of November 30th, post-Thanksgiving day sales would suffer. The lobbying proved effective as FDR became convinced that moving the date to November 23rd would help boost consumption and the economy along with it. On October 31st, President Roosevelt signed Executive Proclamation 2373 making the change official.
The change faced immediate resistance, only amplified by the move’s late announcement. Republicans compared the President’s decision to “the omnipotence of a Hitler,” while American football clubs – who regularly scheduled rivalry games for Thanksgiving – were particularly outraged by the sudden change. Polls found that overall 62% of Americans opposed the President’s actions. Democrats favored the move 52% to 48% while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%. This partisan divide was lampooned by Looney Toons creator Tex Avery in his 1940 animated short Holiday Highlights which listed different Thanksgiving Day dates for Democrats and Republicans.
State governments also got involved. In a holiday-themed form of nullification, twenty five states with Republicans governors refused to recognize what became derided as “Franksgiving,” instead sticking with the original November 30th date, while Texas opted to recognize both.
In spite of the backlash, FDR would continue with his earlier Thanksgiving Day date until his Commerce Department discovered in 1941 that, like most of his attempts to stimulate the economy, Franksgiving was a flop. As the New York Times reported, “a record crowd of reporters” were on hand to hear the President admit that “that the Commerce Department had found that expected expansion of retail sales had not occurred.” But this did not mean that government was done meddling with the holiday. In November of 1941, Congress worked together with the president to hammer out a bipartisan deal officially recognizing Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.
So on this Thanksgiving, no matter how hard it may be to avoid getting into a heated political with friends and family, be thankful that at least the holiday itself is no longer marred by partisanship. After all, holidays should always be about time enjoyed with loved ones, far beyond the machinations of government tyrants.