In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the next-to-last Thursday of November rather than the last. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression.
At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. However, Roosevelt's declaration was not mandatory; twenty-three states went along with this recommendation, and twenty-two did not. Other states, like Texas, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Roosevelt persisted in 1940 to celebrate his "Franksgiving," as it was termed. The U.S. Congress in 1941 split the difference and established that the Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the next to last. On November 26 that year President Roosevelt signed this bill into U.S. law.
President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House.
Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. Still others claim that that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches.
In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning. Since 2003 the public has been invited to vote for the two turkeys' names. In 2005, they were named Marshmallow and Yam (who went on to live at Disneyland); 2004's turkeys were named Biscuit and Gravy; in 2003, Stars and Stripes.
Since 1970, a group of Native Americans and others have held a controversial National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.