Six weeks after President William McKinley died from a gunshot to the stomach, Vice President-turned-President Teddy Roosevelt signed one of his first proclamations in the Oval Office, calling on Americans to give thanks. Abraham Lincoln established it as a national tradition in 1863, but it was Roosevelt who made it a national holiday in 1901, proclaiming the final Thursday in November as a national day to “thank the Giver of all good for our national blessings.”
One hundred and fifteen years later, we can learn much from Roosevelt’s 345-word decree. Here are a few nuggets for the rugged gentleman to remember during this Thanksgiving week:
“We have prospered in things material and have been able to work for our own uplifting in things intellectual and spiritual,” Roosevelt said. Nowadays, it’s easy to slip into materialism. We equate success with what we possess. We celebrate, pray and give thanks for things in our garages, living rooms and bank accounts. When asked what we are thankful for — after family — most of us point to the things that make life easy. But consider Roosevelt’s phrase: “work for our own uplifting.” Be thankful for the gift of striving, the ability granted us to work, to learn, to grow. We are blessed with the opportunity to work for our own uplifting.
“True homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds,” Roosevelt said. “We can best prove our thankfulness to the Almighty by the way in which on this earth and at this time each of us does his duty to his fellow men.” Feasts, gifts, and speeches are worthless if not followed by action. Be a man filled with gratitude, and prove it by fervently performing your duties, whatever they may be.
Roosevelt encouraged Americans to “cease from their wonted occupations.” Quite a contrast from our holiday today. From shopping to football to family events, our busyness increases greatly from this week through the end of the year. As a gentleman striving to honor the traditions of our forefathers, take time this week to stop everything and show some reverence and gratitude for the many blessings we have, both material and otherwise. True story: On Thanksgiving Day in 1902, construction workers were hustling to finish work on the White House’s West Wing annex. Roosevelt interrupted work that afternoon and insisted each worker put down his tools and eat a turkey dinner prepared by the White House kitchen.
The season is nigh when, according to the time-hallowed custom of our people, the President appoints a day as the especial occasion for praise and thanksgiving to God.
This Thanksgiving finds the people still bowed with sorrow for the death of a great and good President. We mourn President McKinley because we so loved and honored him; and the manner of his death should awaken in the breasts of our people a keen anxiety for the country, and at the same time a resolute purpose not to be driven by any calamity from the path of strong, orderly, popular liberty which as a nation we have thus far safely trod.
Yet in spite of this great disaster, it is nevertheless true that no people on earth have such abundant cause for thanksgiving as we have. The past year in particular has been one of peace and plenty. We have prospered in things material and have been able to work for our own uplifting in things intellectual and spiritual. Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us; and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds. We can best prove our thankfulness to the Almighty by the way in which on this earth and at this time each of us does his duty to his fellow men.
Now, Therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do hereby designate as a day of general thanksgiving Thursday, the 28th of this present November, and do recommend that throughout the land the people cease from their wonted occupations, and at their several homes and places of worship reverently thank the Giver of all good for the countless blessings of our national life.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington this second day of November, A. D. 1901, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and twenty-sixth.