And big business, too! The big corporations certainly think they know what's best for all us "little people." I'm old enough to remember the old adage "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA." This is paraphrase of an actual quote by Charles E. Wilson, the President of General Motors who went on to become the Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower. The exact quote is often attributed to satirist and newspaper cartoonist Al Capp who created a character in his comic strip "Lil' Abner" modeled after Charles Wilson and named "General Bullmoose."
And, if you'll allow me one further digression, there was another Charles E. Wilson who also was the head of a major US Corporation, General Electric, who also became Secretary of Defense just a few years earlier under President Truman. The two are often confused.
But back to our story of outrageous Governmental and big business interference and meddling in our lives. I know you think the country is divided today... but this dictatorial act of over reaching Presidential power really did divide the country, often pitting father against son, brother against brother and created a real battle of wills between the states!
I'm not joking. And I'm not taking about the civil war. But, rest assured this story is exactly and absolutely true.
Thanksgiving is a truly American Holiday and a wonderful American tradition. According to generally accepted history the first Thanksgiving happened in the fall of 1621 when Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered together to celebrate a successful harvest. The exact date is actually unknown but is generally believed to be sometime between September 21 and November 11. It was a three-day feast. I wish we hadn't lost that tradition!
But, in reality,Thanksgiving was never an official "National" holiday. In 1863, when President Lincoln was looking for ways to unite the country, he issued the first "Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation" and set the last Thursday in November to be a day of "thanksgiving and praise."
The Thanksgiving Holiday was embraced by the public and for the next 75 years each President issued his own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving.
Ahhh, but here's where big business and politics intervened. By 1939 President Roosevelt was fighting the Great Depression with every weapon he could muster. And, in 1939, the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30, the final day of the month.
As you know, even today, retailers, especially the big corporations, do everything possible to increase and enlarge the length of the Holiday Shopping Season. And, as you also know, most people really object to the move by business to further commercialize and extend the Christmas season.
When the various big retailers and business associations complained to President Roosevelt that, with Thanksgiving on the 30th of November, there would be only left 24 shopping days to Christmas, Roosevelt was receptive to their pleas. If only the President would move Thanksgiving one week earlier, it would add a full seven days to the Holiday Shopping Season!! It was, the retailers claimed, a win-win situation because if the public spent more money it would help their profits and help end the depression!
Roosevelt agreed! In 1939, he declared the date of Thanksgiving to be Thursday, November 23, the second-to-last Thursday of the month!
What seemed like a good idea quickly turned into a political and commercial nightmare. Roosevelt made several mistakes, the most important of which was messing with an established tradition. But there were other problems. First he issued the Proclamation way too late. Calendars were now incorrect. Schools who had planned vacations and tests now had to reschedule.
And even in 1939 Thanksgiving was a big day for football games, much as it is today. It wasn't such a great idea to interfere with college football. And Roosevelt's decision caused many games to be scheduled on a working weekend.
Of course, political opponents questioned the president's right to change the holiday and stressed the breaking of precedent and disregard for tradition. Sounds a lot like controversies today doesn't it? Many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease big businesses was selling out to the corporations.
The not particularly loyal opposition called the new early date "Franksgiving" in dishonor of Roosevelt himself.
If you think this is some silly little argument and the Wizard is making all this up, I'm not. This was a serious issue of the day. And it quickly got a lot more serious.
Since Thanksgiving was not a legally legislated Holiday, each states Governor normally issued a Proclamation for their own state. So in 1939, many governors, who did not agree with Roosevelt's decision, refused to follow his lead. The country became split on which Thanksgiving day they should observe.
Twenty-three states followed Roosevelt's decision and declared Thanksgiving to be November 23.
But exactly twenty-three other states disagreed and kept the traditional date for Thanksgiving, one week later.
The two states that the Wizard calls home, Colorado and Texas, actually decided to honor both dates. Was that the 1939 version of "politically correct?"
At any rate the idea of two Thanksgivings split some families, because not everyone had the same day off work. School Holidays were messed up and so were vacations.
And everybody ended up hating the retailers who caused this mess in the first place. Holiday shopping did not improve in either group of states!
The controversy continued in 1940 and in 1941 when Roosevelt again chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving.
But finally, after much negotiation and public pressure, a bipartisan group in Congress came up with a compromise. Congress finally made Thanksgiving a real legal National Holiday, taking away the President's right to set the date!
The new law declared that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November, a split between the old and new dates.
The Congressional compromise insured Thanksgiving would never fall on either the 29th or the 30th. But it generally would fall on the last Thursday of November in traditional fashion.
I hope you all have a wonderful, peaceful and stress free Thanksgiving.
A big thanks and a tip of the Wizard's pointly cap goes to Jennifer Rosenberg's, whose article, A History of Thanksgiving, is located in about.com.