Sixty-five years ago, in that tense passage after the worst of the Great Depression began to ease but before the bombings at Pearl Harbor drew this country into the wars of Europe and Asia, Franklin Roosevelt penned the most remarkable of Thanksgiving Proclamations.
Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, including the current occupant of the Oval Office, Roosevelt saw the writing of the annual statement as something more than a perfunctory task. Each of the 32nd president's dozen Thanksgiving Proclamations was unique, and as his tenure progressed, Roosevelt used them to express the values of the New Deal and the internationalist struggle against fascism.
Though Roosevelt's proclamations retained a spiritual character, he deemphasized explicitly Christian references in favor of a more universalist approach, which recognized the contributions of different religious groupings within the United States and abroad. He also added inclusive language, which he and his aides hoped would be read as an encouragement to overcome racial and ethnic divisions.
Roosevelt's finest proclamation, that of Thanksgiving Day, 1941, was an appeal for "the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice…"
THANKSGIVING DAY - 1941BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - A PROCLAMATION
I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate and set aside Thursday, the twentieth day of November 1941, as a day to be observed in giving thanks to the Heavenly Source of our earthly blessings.
Our beloved country is free and strong. Our moral and physical defenses against the forces of threatened aggression are mounting daily in magnitude and effectiveness.
In the interest of our own future, we are sending succor at increasing pace to those peoples abroad who are bravely defending their homes and their precious liberties against annihilation.
We have not lost our faith in the spiritual dignity of man, our proud belief in the right of all people to live out their lives in freedom and with equal treatment. The love of democracy still burns brightly in our hearts.
We are grateful to the Father of us all for the innumerable daily manifestations of His beneficent mercy in affairs both public and private, for the bounties of the harvest, for opportunities to labor and to serve, and for the continuation of those homely joys and satisfactions which enrich our lives.
Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us.
On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us ray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this 8th day of November, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-sixth.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
As we take up the homely joys and satisfactions of this Thanksgiving, there is much to celebrate. Americans have used their franchise to temper a regal presidency, and the prospect of a more realistic and humane future appears to be in the offering. But the favorable result of one election ought not blind us to the reality that this nation has for too long deferred the essential work of "the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice." Even a chastened President Bush will not be inclined to guide us toward that task. Thankfully, President Roosevelt prods us still, across the expanse of history, to embrace the better angels of our nature and to seek the America -- and the world -- that should be.
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com