COMMEMORATE: 1789 National Thanksgiving Proclamation

Nov 21 2012

by Whitney Long

On October 3, 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation by a U.S. president, setting aside Thursday, November 26 as a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” While it was the first nationally celebrated Thanksgiving, such proclamations were a long-held tradition in North America, where local and colonial governments routinely set aside days for the public to give thanks to God, often to celebrate a positive outcome, be it a harvest or overcoming disease, drought or bad weather.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress established several days of thanksgiving, and truth be told, it was Congress who passed the resolution requesting the President to issue the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Washington’s proclamation was not for an annual or regular celebration, but was a one-time event to commemorate the nascent country’s many successes, from overcoming the Revolutionary War to adopting the Constitution and peaceably establishing a new government.

Washington spread the word from New York City, then the nation’s capital, by mailing the proclamation to the governors of the states. It was also widely published in newspapers, such as the Pennsylvania Gazette and Daily Advertiser, which printed the proclamation on October 9, 1789. An issue of this paper is in Mount Vernon’s collection today.

Washington would not proclaim another day of thanksgiving for another five years, and it wouldn’t be until James Madison that another president declared such a day. Washington’s example that our nation should pause to give thanks and be grateful was not lost on future presidents, however. Other leaders to add Thanksgiving to their pedigree include Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 set aside the last Thursday of November to be the holiday and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed into law that Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November, thereby creating the federal holiday we now enjoy.

Today people fete Thanksgiving with stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, but back in Washington’s day there was just one simple ingredient to make the day complete: giving thanks.

1789 National Thanksgiving Proclamation

This is the text of George Washington’s October 3, 1789 national Thanksgiving Proclamation; as printed in The Providence Gazette and Country Journal, on October 17, 1789.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

G. Washington.


Whitney Long View More Blog Posts from this Author

Whitney Long is co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit. Mama x 4, wife x 1. Entrepreneur, thinker, doer, writer, researcher, believer. Enjoys working alongside creative entrepreneurs to build community while supporting established and upcoming brands. Hobbies include travel, reading, bike rides and clever craft cocktails.

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