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.