History

Franklin & Franklin's Thanksgiving Special

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In honor of tomorrow's holiday, here is Benjamin Franklin's famous argument that the turkey should be our national bird:

A scene from Barbarella

For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; you may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this injustice, he is never in good care; but like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward: The little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the king-birds from our country; though exactly fit for that order of knights which the French call Chevaliers d'Industrie.

I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For the truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours….It is besides (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.

Elsewhere in Reason: Nick Gillespie compares Ben Franklin to Jane Fonda.

Elsewhere not in Reason: Bill Kauffman, a Reason staffer back in the '80s, tells the tale of the time Franklin Roosevelt decided that moving Thanksgiving would stimulate the economy:

The president prepares to eat his stimulus package.

in 1939 Thanksgiving was to fall on November 30th, a matter of consternation to the big merchants of the National Retail Dry Goods Association (NRDGA). The presidents of Gimbel Brothers, Lord & Taylor, and other unsentimental vendors petitioned President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving to the previous Thursday, November 23, thus creating an additional week of Christmas shopping–and to the astonishment of those Americans without dollar signs in their eyes, the President did so. (Not all merchants favored the shift. One Kokomo shopkeeper hung a sign in his window reading, "Do your shopping now. Who knows, tomorrow may be Christmas.")…

Although the states customarily followed the federal government's lead on Thanksgiving, they retained the right to set their own date for the holiday, so 48 battles erupted….This New Deal experiment in Gimbelism lasted two more years, until finally the NRDGA admitted that there was little difference in retail sales figures between the states that celebrated Thanksgiving early and those that clung to the traditional date. Without fanfare, President Roosevelt returned Thanksgiving 1942 to the last Thursday in November. Mark Sullivan noted that this was the only New Deal initiative FDR even renounced.