Thanksgiving Proclamations and President Hoover

by Matthew Schaefer

In addition to the White House tradition of spending Thanksgiving as a quiet day with the family, Herbert Hoover tended to the ceremonial aspect of his official duty by issuing a Thanksgiving Proclamation.  This tradition dates back to George Washington, and most Presidents hew to a predictable script—invoking forefathers, thanking God, and sharing pride in America.

Herbert Hoover stuck to this script.  His 1929 Thanksgiving Proclamation reads in part: ‘God had greatly blessed us as a nation in the year drawing to a close.  The earth has yielded an abundant harvest in most parts of our country.  The fruits of industry have been of unexampled quantity and value.  Both capital and labor have enjoyed an exceptional prosperity.’

For Hoover, there is no mention of the Stock Market Crash, his recently convened Conference for Continued Industrial Progress, or the impact of a severe drought on several states.  This is not surprising given that Hoover was acutely aware of the power of his words from the bully pulpit of the Presidency; a discouraging word from him might do serious harm to economic recovery.  He knew that he was bound by the weight of his office to speak of blue skies and sunny prospects.

Hoover offered similar platitudes in ensuing Thanksgiving proclamations despite worsening conditions as America slid deeper into the abyss of the Great Depression.  Others, unburdened by office, respectfully requested that the usual Thanksgiving proclamation not be issued.  Woolsey Teller, of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, offered three reasons: Drought-‘’Parched fields are no call for thanks.’ Unemployment-‘Jobless workers are not at fault; to ask them in these hard times to be thankful is to add insult to injury.’ Separation of Church and State-citing Thomas Jefferson’s precedent in refusing to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Others called for doubling down on prayer and penitence.  Some importuned Hoover to make Thanksgiving a national day of humiliation, humbling man before a wrathful God.  In 1931, the Federation of Reformed Men’s Societies of the West asked that the customary proclamation be: ‘a call for acknowledgment of our national sins and to pray for the removal of the widespread economic depression in our country.’

Hoover heeded neither side, choosing his own path.  His Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1931 closely paralleled the 1929 and 1930 versions in style and substance, thanking the Almighty for abundant harvests, good health, and enriched lives.  In a nod to the gloomy economy, Hoover noted: ‘The measure of passing adversity which has come upon us should deepen the spiritual life of the people, quicken their sympathies and spirit of sacrifice for others, and strengthen their courage.’

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