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Thoughts For A Thanksgiving Speech

( Originally Published 1901 )

The manner in which the day was first instituted. The sore struggles and the small beginnings of that day compared with the greatness and abounding prosperity of the present. The warfare between Christmas and Thanksgiving, the one being thought the badge of popery and prelacy. The Battle of the Pies, pump-kin and mince, terminating in a treaty of peace and alliance; and now we can enjoy the nightmare by feasting on both combined ! The national blessings of the year; the poorest have more now than kings and emperors had five hundred years ago. Exemption from wars. Internal peace. Willingness and habit of settling every domestic dispute by the ballot, and not the bullet. The increasing tendency to arbitrate between nations, thus avoiding the horrors of war. The beneficence of our government and the ease with which its operations rest upon our shoulders. The wonderful progress of science and invention, and the manner in which these have added to the comfort of all the people.


Why we ought to be grateful to the old Puritans, with all their faults. Their unsuccessful warfare on plum pudding, which, like truth, " crushed to earth," rose again. Their discovery and enshrining of Turkey. On this day the Nation gathers as a family at the Thanksgiving board, and from all parts of the world the wanderers come home to the family feast. The duty of Happiness, joined to gratitude, is emphasized this day. The closing toast, "The Federal Eagle and the Festal Turkey; may we always have peace under the wings of the one, and be able to obtain a piece from the breast of the other."


Giving a present is a kind and graceful act, and should be accompanied by a simple, short, and unaffected speech. " Take this " would have the merit of brevity, but would fail in conveying any information as to who gave, why they gave to the recipient, and why that present was selected rather than another, and why the speaker was chosen to make the presentation. All of these items form a part of nearly every presentation address, whilst some of them belong to all.

The novice will find much help in preparing his proposed speech by selecting a few items that are generally appropriate; afterward he can include anything which his own genius or wishes may suggest.

He may say that an abler speaker might have been selected for the pleasant duty, but not one who could enter into it more heartily or with more good wishes. He can refer to any circumstance which, if told briefly, will show why he has been selected, notwithstanding his reluctance or sense of unworthiness; or why he is pleased that the selection has fallen upon him. Such reference is usually effective.

Then the nature of the gift may be described. Here is an easy field for a little pleasantry. If a watch, it can be said, " Your friends are growing a little suspicious of you, and, after due deliberation, they have determined to a place a watch upon you." If a cane is the article in hand, then the painful duty of administering punishment for offenses by caning is in order. A ring will afford an opportunity for many verbal plays. The ring of friends about the recipient, the true ring of a bell, or of an untracked vase, a political ring—any of these can be made to lead up to the little hoop of gold. The fineness of the material, its sterling and unvarying value, the inscription on it, any specialty in its form —all these will be found rich in suggestion. Silver-ware of any kind may also be considered as to the form of the article, the use to which it is to be put, and the purity of the metal. Hardly any article can be thought of which will not allow some pleasant puns or bon mots. If a book is given, we bring the person " to book," and the book to him. Job wished that his enemy might write a book; we, more charitable, wish our friend to read a book, and now offer him a good one for the purpose: The author or the title will, if closely examined, yield some matter for play on words.

The army presents of sword or banner, while usually more serious, do not forbid the same kind of badinage.

But this should form only a small portion of the speech, and consist merely of two or three well-studied sentences, to be uttered slowly, so that their double meaning may have time to sink in, and appear also as if they were just thought of. A good anecdote should be introduced at this point. It must be short, tinged with humor, and, if it succeeds in arousing the attention of the hearers, it will be of great value. If it is very appropriate or highly illustrative, these qualities will compensate for humor. Indeed, a felicitous anecdote will make the whole speech a success, if the speech is not continued too long afterward. Better suffer the extreme penalty of reading every anecdote in this volume, and of searching for hours in other fields, than fail to get the right one; but if unsuccessful invent one for the occasion !

The good qualities of the recipient must not be overlooked, especially those in recognition of which the present is given. If anything in the nature of the present itself can be made symbolic of these assumed good or great qualities, it will be a happy circumstance. And while flattery should not be excessive or too palpable, it is seldom indeed that a large dose of " pleasant things " will not be well received by all parties on such an occasion.

The expression of kindly feeling and good wishes always affords a favorable opportunity for closing. Perhaps, however, a more striking conclusion can be made by taking advantage of the very moment when the present is handed over to the recipient, accompanying this act with a hearty wish for its long retention and its happy use in the manner its nature indicates. Wishing a ring to be worn as a memento of friendship, a watch to mark the passage of happy hours, a cane not to be needed for support, but only as a treasured ornament, a sword to be worn with honor and only to be unsheathed at the call of duty or of patriotism, etc.

The reception of a gift is more easy than the presentation, but is at the same time more embarrassing. The reception is easier, because the essential part of the response is to say " Thank you," which are very easy words to utter if the givers are real friends and the present is an appropriate one. It is more embarrassing because it is always harder to receive a favor gratefully than to give one. If the gift is a surprise, there is no harm in saying so, though if it is not a surprise, it is not advisable to tell an untruth about it. The recipient may say he is embarrassed, and his embarrassment—whether real or feigned—will create sympathy for him. Besides, he can ask for indulgence with more grace than the preceding speaker, as he is supposed to be taken by surprise. He may be so overcome with emotion as to break down altogether, and yet he will be loudly applauded.

A still stronger reason for this disparity is that the speaker representing the givers has been selected, probably out of a large company, to make his speech, and is thus expected to do it well; but the receiver occupies his position for a reason that has no connection whatever with his speech-making powers. If he succeeds in expressing his gratitude and good-will to those who have been so generous he will have served the essential purpose of his speech; but if, in addition, he can gather up the points made in the presentation speech, assenting to its general principles, accepting the humorous charges for which he is to be watched, caned, stoned (when a diamond or other stone is given), or put to the sword, and gently deprecates the serious flattery offered, he will be regarded as doing exceedingly well. One phrase he will not be likely to omit, unless " he loses his head" altogether—" When I look upon this, I will always remember the feelings of this hour, the kind words uttered, the appreciation shown." This word " appreciation," with the reiteration of thanks, will make a very fitting conclusion.

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