Saturday, November 24, 2007

FDR and Two Thanksgivings

Two Thanksgivings; a dream to some and a nightmare for others, depending on whether you're eating or cooking. In 1939 there really was two Thanksgivings.

At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday. At that time it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would be. Most presidents would follow suit and announce the holiday as the last Thursday in November.

Many believe that the Pilgrims chose this day, but that is not the case. It was 1863 when President Lincoln began the observance of Thanksgiving in November, making it a national holiday. Lincoln's decision came in the middle of the Civil War and seems to be an awkward attempt to bring faith back into a war-torn country. Below is an excerpt from Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation:

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and
also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Here's the full text of Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, from October 3, 1963.

Like all the presidents that preceded him, FDR kept tradition until he felt other circumstances would supersede tradition. What circumstances you ask? How about the economy and the Great Depression.

In 1933, FDR's first year in office, Thanksgiving fell on November 30th, the last day of the month and the 5th Thursday. Because statistics showed that most people did not do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving businesses feared a loss in revenue. November 30th left only 24 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Many business owners asked President Roosevelt to make Thanksgiving one week earlier. The requests were ignored until 1939, when Thanksgiving was once again due to fall on the last day of the month. This time FDR listened to the requests and moved Thanksgiving to November 23rd and not November 30th.

This simple date change seemed easy enough, but in actuality proved to be a short-sighted blunder. Thousands of letters poured into the White House from small businesses, calendar manufacturers and universities claiming that the date change will actually harm and/or disrupt their business or routine.

While some retailers were pleased to have the extra week of holiday shopping, smaller businesses claimed they'd lose business to the larger stores. Calendar makers had already printed some of their calendars years in advance making their future supplies now obsolete and out of date. Some Americans were simply upset with Roosevelt's attempt to alter the long-standing tradition just to help businesses make more money. And finally, schools with annual Thanksgiving day football games were now forced to reschedule, and so on and so forth.

Some of these letters can be found at the FDR Library:

With increased opposition, some states refused to honor the new date and kept November 30th as Thanksgiving day. Depending on which state you were from determined which date Thanksgiving was observed. So those living in Connecticut would not have the same day off as those living in New York and thus, family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

A stubborn FDR continued to observe Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November for two more years/ The amount of public outrage eventually convinced Congress to pass a law on December 26, 1941, declaring Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November every year.

For more Thanksgiving history, visit this timeline:


Monday, November 19, 2007

The Gettysburg Address - November 19,1863

On this day, 144 years ago, approximately 6 weeks after 7,500 men died in a 3 day battle, 1 man, bellowed 10 sentences and 272 words in 3 minutes. Little did he know that this short speech would eventually become the most quoted speech in United States history. And for good reason.

The speech rang true with many, even to this day as establishing "a new birth of freedom". It was a speech that would bring equality to all citizens, and create a unified nation where the rights of the states were no longer dominant. This man declared a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

What many probably don't know is that this speech almost didn't happen. The Abraham Lincoln Blog has a pretty cool primary document of a letter addressed to Lincoln asking him for "A Few Appropriate Marks", leaving Edward Everett, a popular orator of the time to be the main attraction.

Funny to think that the President of the United States was playing second fiddle and received the invitation less than 3 weeks before the scheduled event. The Abraham Lincoln Blog has the full text of the letter. (thanks for bringing this to our attention)

And without further ado ... Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address", November 19, 1863

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
PS - A new photo of Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg memorial ceremony was found. It is the first such discovery since 1952. Here is the link...


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Justice in the Wild West, circa 1850

The blog entry title itself is a paradox. Justice, as we know it hardly existed during the gold rush era. This was an era of saloons, gun fights, brothels and posses. These were mean, ugly, vigilante people.

It is these lawless men who set the scene for the first several chapters of California Justice, a book by David Kulczyk chronicles the deadliest shootouts, lynchings and assassinations in California's history. From the death of a few innocent men in 1850 to the shocking assassination of Robert Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan.

If you're a history teacher looking for a creative way to show the ways of the world in the wild west, this is your book. There are numerous examples of the chaotic towns filled with make-shift shacks and tents in the gold rush era, when men were more likely to take the law into their own hands then to listen to reason.

The stories are suspenseful, shocking and sometimes humurous, which will undoubtedly peak the interest of the passive reader. I do recommend this book for classroom use.

Two of the more famous assassinations highlighted in the book are those of Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigel and Robert Kennedy. The book can be a great introduction into a lesson about the Kennedy's or Robert Kennedy and the tumultuous racial issues of the 60s and 70s.

All in all it's a good book written in short story/vignette style. The best audience would be those interested in teaching or learngin about California history.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saluting America's Veterans

History: a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account;

The definition sounds simple enough, right? A narrative of past events. And what better way to record history then through first hand accounts of those that experienced these events, whatever they might be.

Wouldn't our history books be much better, had someone taken the time to interview Thomas Jefferson? Or what about a reality show on Ben Franklin. Wouldn't it have been awesome to have a panel of Revolutionary War heroes on Oprah? Imagine the stories these guys would tell. Imagine the information you would get. The dates and the timing of certain attacks. How they really felt about the red coats. History is much more vivid, when it comes right from the source. There is no telling how much richer our history would be, had these things been possible. Today they are possible.

With the recent broadcast of Ken Burns' "The War" on PBS there has been an increased awareness in the stories of this country's veterans. Without the help of many dedicated individuals many of these stories would go untold. Fortunately, is an organization dedicated to telling these stories.

In honor of Veteran's Day on November 11th, American Profile, is asking for veterans' stories. The site already has dozens of first hand accounts directly from the mouths of the soldiers who lived the pain and the glory of our american wars.

Still, they're looking for more.

Here is their press release, because frankly, it's best right from the source.


NEW YORK, NY (November 6, 2007) - "Saluting America's Veterans" is sounding a call for veterans' stories this Veterans Day, November 11th.

Launched last month in conjunction with the highly-acclaimed Ken Burns' documentary series on World War II, the website has attracted dozens of personal accounts, each one putting a human face on America's 20th-century conflicts. Friends, family and colleagues are invited to share their memories, appreciation, and recognition of veterans; and veterans are invited to share their own stories of tours of duty and beyond. Anchored by a profile of Burns and exclusive video excerpts from "The War," the living museum has attracted compelling and compassionate accounts. For example:

** A WWII infantry rifleman recalls a grizzled old man in a Philippine refugee camp who kissed each of his American liberators one by one.

** A WWII radioman shares journal entries written in the middle of a battle in the South Pacific, a bullet-by-bullet account during which he muses about what his wife might be doing right then.

**A San Francisco woman describes the shock she gave her boyfriend, a WWII Navy enlistee, when she wangled her way onto a Coast Guard boat and met his ship on its return from two years in the South Pacific.

**A WWII war bride recalls an anxious year spent awaiting word of her POW husband.

** A member of a Vietnam helicopter crew tells a nail-biting tale of rescuing a stranded marine by dangling his legs over the side of his hovering aircraft for the marine on the ground to grab onto.

In addition to posting, viewing, and commenting on personal accounts, visitors can read feature articles about American veterans on both the battlefront and the homefront, including profiles of Cpl. Matthew A. Commons, who was killed in Afghanistan, and Earl Morse, founder of the Honor Flight service that takes veterans free of charge to the war memorials in Washington, D.C.Visitors can help send veterans on Honor Flights not only by making donations directly to the organization, but also by submitting stories and photos; the more stories receives, the more veterans it will sponsor for trips to the war memorials in Washington.

"The extraordinary contributions of America's veterans extend beyond the battlefield, and publishing the personal accounts of service members, friends, family and colleagues is our way of showing our gratitude," said Charlie Cox, editor in chief of American Profile, which created the site. "Contributors to this living museum will help ensure that our veterans get the recognition and respect they deserve."