Our National Day of Thanksgiving is often equated with a quaint image of the Pilgrims celebrating their second year of survival in Plymouth, Massachusetts, following a harsh winter and drought with the help of the native Wampanoag Indian tribe. But the national recognition of this day of thanksgiving was more of a political and public policy initiative to bind a disparate group of colonies into a more cohesive nation.
Granted the first such celebration was, according to historical records, conducted by newly arrived Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony. While that celebration of the fall harvest was duplicated as new colonies appeared, the events were more spontaneous, occurring at odd times of the year.
It was not until our nascent nation was beginning to form, following an audacious rebellion against the largest and most powerful country in western Europe, England, that a national day of celebration and thanksgiving should be established.
Responding to a congressional resolution, initiated by Representative Elias Boudinot, New Jersey, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating Thursday November 26 as a national day of thanks. According T.K. Byron, Ph.D., a history professor at Dalton State College, Washington was very sensitive to the fear state governments had of the newly designed national government so he sent the proclamation to each governor, asking that they announce and voluntarily observe the day within their states.
Though it was subsequently celebrated at the request of succeeding presidents, it was not officially recognized as a recurring celebration until President Abraham Lincoln established it as a regular observance in 1863, which once again served to bind what had become a divided nation.
Let us hope that this year, following years of political and social division, another simple but relevant moment of Thanksgiving and reflection will once again bind our nation.
Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
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 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 which we experienced 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 hath 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 shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease 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 1789.