The first radio Thanksgiving

Here’s a nice little post about our favorite president giving the first-ever presidential Thanksgiving address to be broadcast over radio on November 23, 1927 – a scant 84 years ago this Wednesday. As we know, Coolidge was the first president to really take advantage of what was then the booming new medium of radio; it might even be said that radio was the ideal medium for him: he was too unprepossessing and un-theatrical to have “made it” in either the preceding era of spellbinding orators with mesmerizing stage presence, or the later years of telegenic personalities suited to provide sound bites and glamour.

A Coolidge Thanksgiving

President and Mrs. Coolidge leaving church, Thanksgiving, 11/27/24

Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving, this most puritan of holidays, held special meaning for Calvin Coolidge, as his antecedents truly had been among the Pilgrim Fathers. His forebears sailed with Governor John Winthrop to the new Massachusetts Colony in 1630, and John Coolidge began his life in America as a farmer in Watertown and was a deputy to the General Court. His descendants migrated northward to Plymouth, Vermont after the Revolutionary War. Some of the log houses from that era were still standing when Calvin Coolidge was a boy in the 1870s.

Thus when president Coolidge spoke of the pilgrims with reverence, he was speaking of his own family line. And for him, giving thanks always was as important as being thrifty:

“If at any time our rewards have seemed meager, we shall find our justification for Thanksgiving by carefully comparing what we have with what we deserve. The little band of Pilgrims who first established this institution on the shore by Plymouth Rock had no doubts. If their little colony of devoted souls, when exiled to a foreign wilderness by persecution, cut in half by disease, surrounded by hostility and threatened with famine, could give thanks how much more should this great nation, less deserving than the Pilgrims yet abounding in freedom, peace, security and plenty, now have the faith to return thanks to the author of all good and perfect gifts.”

 

(text partly adapted from a Vermont Public Radio interview with Cyndi Bittinger, former executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation)

A Coolidge Thanksgiving

Writing in his daily newspaper column, “Calvin Coolidge Says”, on Nov. 26, 1930, Calvin Coolidge succinctly expressed his thoughts about Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, he stressed the spiritual importance of the holiday:

Thanksgiving is not only a holiday, it is a holy day. It is by no means enough to make it an occasion for recreation and feasting. Thanks are not to be returned merely to ourselves or to each other. The day is without significance unless it has a spiritual meaning. For more than three centuries our people have felt the need of celebrating the harvest time as a religious rite by offering thanks to the Creator for all their earthly blessings. There can be no true Thanksgiving without prayer.

If at any time our rewards have seemed meager, we shall find our justification for Thanksgiving by carefully comparing what we have with what we deserve. The little band of Pilgrims who first established this institution on the shore by Plymouth Rock had no doubts. If their little colony of devoted souls, when exiled to a foreign wilderness by persecution, cut in half by disease, surrounded by hostility and threatened by famine, could give thanks how much more should this great nation, less deserving than the Pilgrims yet abounding in freedom, peace, security and plenty, now have faith to return thanks to the author of all good and perfect gifts.