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UH Moment

UH Moment: “Presidential Proclamations”

When the President of the United States of America addresses the citizenry should the words be ceremonial or policy? What if the address is on Thanksgiving Day? Listen to the week’s UH Moment.


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Presidential proclamations are not rare. A sitting president may make two to 200 proclamations during his presidency. He may use it to announce a national day of mourning, a day of prayer or proclaim it national good vision week or safe boating week. University of Houston political scientist Jeremy Bailey wonders if the venue is becoming a lost opportunity to convey policy information to the American public.

UH Political Scientists Brandon Rottinghaus & Jeremy Bailey“The Thanksgiving proclamation is an enormous opportunity for presidents to act in a ceremonial way, but it also has important policy implications, for example, in this case, to recognize economic hardship,” he said.

Bailey and colleague Brandon Rottinghaus have begun the Presidential Proclamation Project, a database of more than 10,000 proclamations from President George Washington to President Barack Obama.

Historically, the Thanksgiving Proclamation acknowledged challenges such as war, famine or illness. For example, Calvin Coolidge one year discussed the death of Warren Harding and a devastating earthquake in Japan.

“He used these two things, one domestic and one foreign, as a way to talk about how it is valuable to acknowledge the things that have gone wrong as a way to think about the blessings that we have in the country,” said Rottinghaus.

The Presidential Proclamation Project is used by students and scholars alike.

“[The Thanksgiving Proclamation] would be a safe place for presidents to do it … a way that they could talk about issues that Americans are noticing, and certainly Thanksgiving would be an appropriate time to do that.”

Presidential research is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.