It was in 1836 that William Leggett, the outspoken editorial writer for the New York Plaindealer, wrote of finding “something exceedingly impressive in the spectacle which a whole people presents, in thus voluntarily withdrawing themselves on some particular day, from all secular employment, and uniting in a tribute of praise for the blessings they enjoy.”From a Leggett essay:
Mr. Leggett, generally recognized as the “intellectual leader of the laissez-faire wing of Jacksonian democracy,” was speaking of Thanksgiving Day. But his comments prefaced a most contrarian argument for his day, one that sometimes engenders the same kind of public policy debate to this day.
Against “a custom so venerable for its age” and “so reverently observed,” Leggett took great exception to the practice of our constitutionally elected leaders issuing Thanksgiving proclamations.
After all, he argued, in framing our grand institutions of governance, had not “the great men to whom that important trust was confided taught, by the example of other countries, the evils which result from mingling civil and ecclesiastical affairs”?