Did you know that there was once so much confusion over what day Thanksgiving would be officially celebrated on that Congress had to pass a joint resolution declaring that last Thursday in November would be the legal holiday?
Here’s the story: In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation stating that Thanksgiving would be regularly commemorated on the last Thursday of November. Prior to Lincoln’s Proclamation, Thanksgiving celebrations varied from year to year with the dates and months constantly changing. Then in 1939, when Thanksgiving fell on the last day in November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned that a shortened Christmas shopping season would dampen the economic recovery. He issued a Presidential Proclamation changing the celebration to the second to last Thursday in November. Not wanting to deviated from tradition, some states refused to move the date of celebration. For two years, the nation and some states celebrated Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November while other states continued to celebrate on the last Thursday of the month.
To unite the nation and end confusion, Congress decided to fix the date of the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring that the last Thursday in November was a legal holiday.
The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays.
The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
H.J. Res. 41, 10/6/1941, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Senate Amendments to H.J. Red. 41, 12/9/1941, Records of the U.S. Senate
Today is the anniversary of one of the saddest days in congressional history: the assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan, the only sitting Member of Congress ever assassinated.
Congressman Ryan’s delegation, including current Representative Jackie Speier, who was then a member of Ryan’s staff, visited the People’s Temple Agricultural Community in Jonestown, Guyana, in response to concerns from constituents with relatives living in the community. Prior to the trip, Ryan wrote a letter to Clement Zablocki, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asking for permission to travel to Guyana as a representative of the committee to investigate the situation first hand.
After arriving at the People’s Temple the previous afternoon, Ryan spent the morning of November 18 speaking with members of the community. Following an attempted knife attack on Ryan at the compound, the party, which now included several residents who wanted to leave the People’s Temple, headed to the airstrip at nearby Port Kaituma for the flight back to Guyana’s capital. At the airstrip, Ryan and his party were preparing to board airplanes when a trailer of armed People’s Temple members drove onto the airfield and opened fire. Ryan and four others were murdered. Nine people, including Speier, were injured.
Ryan’s trip to Jonestown was emblematic of his crusading spirit. From his earliest days of public service he used his position to explore the needs and concerns of the less fortunate by conducting first hand investigations of complex issues such as the conditions in Folsom Prison and African American unrest in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Today we honor the life and service of Congressman Leo J. Ryan.
Letter from Congressman Leo J. Ryan, 10/4/1978, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
Political cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman is credited with introducing the teddy bear into American vernacular after President Theodor Roosevelt famously refused to shoot an old, haggard bear during a hunting trip. Berryman changed the old bear into a cute, cuddly “teddy bear” — named for the President — and it became a common symbol in Berryman’s cartoon. The cartoon featured today shows a self-portrait of Berryman drawing his famous teddy bear in 1904.
The Center for Legislative Archives maintains over 2,400 original pen-and-ink Berryman cartoon. Learn more about Berryman and his drawings by visiting our online exhibit, Running for Office.
Self-Portrait of Clifford Berryman, 1904, U.S. Senate Collection (ARC 2979338)