Thanksgiving Was Not Always the Fourth Thursday in November
I did not know that there was a little controversy as to when the United States would observe Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. It was almost 170 years after the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe celebrated the first unofficial Thanksgiving in 1621 that the United States Federal Government decided to make Thanksgiving official. It was October 3, 1789 that President George Washington declared there would be a "Day of Public Thanksgiving" on November 26 that year.
That Day of Public Thanksgiving happened to fall on a Thursday. Following Presidential Proclamations did not follow that practice. According to the National Archives, other presidents chose different days and even different months. It was in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be celebrated every year on the last Thursday in November.
In 1939 Thanksgiving fell on the very last day of November as there were 5 Thursdays in November that year. The United States was still recovering from the Great Depression. Retailers encouraged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to celebrate Thanksgiving one week earlier lengthening the holiday shopping season. In a presidential proclamation, Thanksgiving was moved to the second to last Thursday in 1939.
Only 32 states agreed with moving Thanksgiving. From 1939 to 1941 there were two Thanksgivings depending on which state you lived in. It was in 1941 that the controversy ended when Congress stepped in. The House of Representatives chooses the last Thursday in November as in the original document. The Senate offered an amendment choosing the fourth Thursday in November. The House of Representatives conceded and agreed with the fourth Thursday in November.
President Roosevelt signed the bill into law on December 26, 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November. Much to the delight of retailers "Black Friday" was born!