Prior to Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, Thanksgiving was celebrated on whichever date the President proclaimed it to be. George Washington issued the first Presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving in 1789, and Presidents continued to do so thereafter.
Following this long-standing tradition, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Thursday, November 29, 1906, to be a day of thanksgiving and supplication. The text of this proclamation is as follows:
"By the President of the United States of America.
The time of year has come when, in accordance with the wise custom of our forefathers, it becomes my duty to set aside a special day of thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty because of the blessings we have received, and of prayer that these blessings may be continued. Yet another year of widespread well-being has past. Never before in our history or in the history of any other nation has a people enjoyed more abounding material prosperity than is ours; a prosperity so great that it should arouse in us no spirit of reckless pride, and least of all a spirit of heedless disregard of our responsibilities; but rather a sober sense of our many blessings, and a resolute purpose, under Providence, not to forfeit them by any action of our own.
Material well-being, indispensable tho it is, can never be anything but the foundation of true national great-ness and happiness. If we build nothing upon this foundation, then our national life will be as meaningless and empty as a house where only the foundation has been laid. Upon our material well-being must be built a superstructure of individual and national life lived in accordance with the laws of the highest morality, or else our prosperity itself will in the long run turn out a curse instead of a blessing. We should be both reverently thankful for what we have received, and earnestly bent upon turning it into a means of grace and not of destruction.
Accordingly I hereby set apart Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November, next, as a day of thanksgiving and supplication, on which the people shall meet in their homes or their churches, devoutly to acknowledge all that has been given them, and to pray that they may in addition receive the power to use these gifts aright.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixt.
Done at the City of Washington this 22nd day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and six and of the independence of the United States the one hundred and thirty-first.
By the President: Elihu Root / Secretary of State.
Interestingly, this proclamation may be more cautionary than celebratory. Roosevelt declares the day of thanksgiving in a solemn tone that suggests that American citizens take their blessings for granted. He extorts the population to build upon their material prosperity in a meaningful manner so that this prosperity is not wasted. Considering how sober the final proclamation is, it is more surprising to see the content Roosevelt removed. The document in our digital library clearly shows what the president removed from his original manuscript, the language of which was much harsher. In the sentences that were removed, TR discusses "our own folly, weakness or wickedness," and expounds upon the theme of disaster that would surely come if Americans are not careful with their "material well-being."
Detail, A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America, October 22, 1906, MS Am 1454.50 (146), Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.
The content of this proclamation reflects a turning point in our nation’s history. As the extreme wealth of the late 19th century continued to be amassed early in the 20th, proponents of reform began to emerge, pushing the nation toward the Progressive Era.
It is also apparent that this was written after Theodore Roosevelt became intrigued by the Simplified Spelling movement as was described in an earlier post. In this document, “affixt” replaces the correct “affixed” and “tho” appears instead of “though.” Unusual spellings such as these were used in all executive documents at this time, which was before Roosevelt conceded defeat to the opponents of Simplified Spelling in Congress.