Thanksgiving 1908

Theodore Roosevelt, that force of nature that was once President of these United States, was a deeply religious man.  He attended church faithfully his entire life.  (He was Dutch Reformed, but he often attended Episcopal services with his wife.)  He opposed putting the national motto “In God We Trust” on currency, for fear it would cheapen the  noble sentiment, as would be the case, in his view, if it were used on postage stamps or in advertisements.  He was opposed to all religious bigotry as he would state immediately after the campaign of 1908 when the Unitarian Willam Howard Taft came under fire for his religion:

“I did not answer any of these letters during the campaign, because I regarded it as an outrage even to agitate such a question. … To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular Church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any Church, is an outrage against the liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life. … I do not for one moment believe that the mass of our fellow-citizens, or that any considerable number of our fellow citizens, can be influenced by such narrow bigotry as to refuse to vote for any thoroughly upright and fit man because he happens to have a particular religious creed. … I believe that this Republic will endure for many centuries. If so, there will doubtless be among its Presidents Protestants and Catholics, and very probably at some time, Jews. … In my Cabinet at the present moment there sit side by side Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, each man chosen because in my belief he is peculiarly fit to exercise on behalf of all our people the duties of the office. … In no case does a man’s religious belief in any way influence his discharge of his duties, save as it makes him more eager to act justly and uprightly in his relations to all men.”

A frequent reader of the Bible, Roosevelt once opined that a thorough knowledge of it was more valuable to a person than a college education.

His Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1908 rejoices in the material well being of the country, but notes that there is far more to life than piling up material possessions.  He would have vigorously dissented from the idiotic bumper sticker:  “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  Here is the text of the Proclamation:

Once again the season is at hand when, according to the ancient custom of our people, it becomes the duty of the President to appoint a day of prayer and of thanksgiving to God.

Year by year this Nation grows in strength and worldly power. During the century and a quarter that has elapsed since our entry into the circle of independent peoples we have grown and prospered in material things to a degree never known before, and not now known in any other country. The thirteen colonies which straggled along the seacoast of the Atlantic and were hemmed-in but a few miles west of tidewater by the Indian haunted wilderness, have been transformed into the mightiest republic which the world has ever seen. Its domains stretch across the continent from one to the other of the two greatest oceans, and it exercises dominion alike in the arctic and tropic realms. The growth in wealth and population has surpassed even the growth in territory. Nowhere else in the world is the average of individual comfort and material well-being as high as in our fortunate land.

For the very reason that in material well-being we have thus abounded, we owe it to the Almighty to show equal progress in moral and spiritual things. With a nation, as with the individuals who make up a nation, material well-being is an indispensable foundation. But the foundation avails nothing by itself. That life is wasted, and worse than wasted, which is spent in piling, heap upon heap, those things which minister merely to the pleasure of the body and to the power that rests only on wealth. Upon material well-being as a foundation must be raised the structure of the lofty life of the spirit, if this Nation is properly to fulfil its great mission and to accomplish all that we so ardently hope and desire. The things of the body are good; the things of the intellect better; the best of all are the things of the soul; for, in the nation as in the individual, in the long run it is character that counts. Let us, therefore, as a people set our faces resolutely against evil, and with broad charity, with kindliness and good-will toward all men, but with unflinching determination to smite down wrong, strive with all the strength that is given us for righteousness in public and in private life.

Now, Therefore, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, do set apart Thursday, the 26th day of November, next, as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day I recommend that the people shall cease from their daily work, and, in their homes or in their churches, meet devoutly to thank the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received in the past, and to pray that they may be given the strength so to order their lives as to deserve a continuation of these blessings in the future.

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 thirty-first day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eight, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and thirty-third.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

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