Did Thomas Jefferson Hate Thanksgiving?


Jefferson refused to acknowledge the holiday during his entire time in office. Why? Plus, did FDR create “Franksgiving”? (American Profile)

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Is this the portrait of a man who hated Thanksgiving? Painting by Rembrandt Peale, courtesy the White House Historical Association
Is this the portrait of a man who hated Thanksgiving?
Painting by Rembrandt Peale, courtesy the White House Historical Association

Discussion Ideas

  • How did President Thomas Jefferson “cancel” Thanksgiving?
    • He didn’t—there was nothing to cancel. Thanksgiving didn’t become an official federal holiday until President Abraham Lincoln made it one in 1863, and President Jefferson served from 1801-1809. Before Lincoln, presidents had to “opt-in” and issue a special proclamation to recognize and celebrate any “days of Thanksgiving.” Jefferson just didn’t issue the special proclamation.


  • Why did Jefferson oppose Thanksgiving?
    • He didn’t—he opposed government proclamations of thanksgiving.
      • Days of thanksgiving were explicitly prayerful events to praise god for political or military victories. Jefferson was a dedicated, staunch supporter of the separation of church and state. In fact, Jefferson is the person who introduced the phrase into American political dialogue in the first place. In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, he cites the First Amendment (which, of course, he helped write): “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;’ thus building a wall of eternal separation between Church & State.”
        • The letter to the Danbury Baptists was drafted, in fact, as an opportunity for “saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did.”





  • Finally, back to non-Jeffersonian presidential Thanksgivings. What is a “Franksgiving,” anyway?
    • It’s the nickname earned by the altered Thanksgiving calendar of Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 and 1940. Thanksgiving had traditionally been the final week in November, but President Roosevelt moved the holiday back one week to give Depression-struck businesses more retail time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The move didn’t go over well, and Thanksgiving’s official date was set as the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.



American Profile: Not-So-Traditional Presidential Thanksgivings

Nat Geo: Thanksgiving

Library of Congress: ‘A Wall of Separation’ essay

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