Kenneth C. Davis credits Lincoln with issuing “the first two in an unbroken string of presidential Thanksgiving proclamations,” but notes that “the elevation of Thanksgiving to a true national holiday [was] a feat accomplished by Franklin D. Roosevelt.” He reminds us that Americans initially found Roosevelt’s holiday politically polarizing:
In 1939, with the nation still struggling out of the Great Depression, the traditional Thanksgiving Day fell on the last day of the month – a fifth Thursday. Worried retailers, for whom the holiday had already become the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, feared this late date. Roosevelt agreed to move his holiday proclamation up one week to the fourth Thursday, thereby extending the critical shopping season.
Some states stuck to the traditional last Thursday date, and other Thanksgiving traditions, such as high school and college football championships, had already been scheduled. This led to Roosevelt critics deriding the earlier date as “Franksgiving.” With 32 states joining Roosevelt’s “Democratic Thanksgiving, ” 16 others stuck with the traditional date, or “Republican Thanksgiving.” After some congressional wrangling, in December 1941, Roosevelt signed the legislation making Thanksgiving a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. And there it has remained.
Josh Zeitz elaborates:
Though Republicans were louder in articulating their opposition, the split between Thanksgiving and “Franksgiving” states was not strictly partisan; rather, it was ideological.