As America comes to the close of a tumultuous year of political, social and cultural strife, this week’s Thanksgiving celebration should give us pause to assess what President George Washington sought with the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving. His admonition appearing below was that we would acknowledge “with grateful hearts” the many blessings bestowed on our nation by “Almighty God especially by affording them (the nation) an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is relegated to a quaint remembrance of a group of Pilgrims who, poorly provisioned, were left stranded in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Fortunately for the ill-prepared settlers, the indigenous Wampanoag tribe gave assistance, teaching the Puritan Separatists how to provide shelter and food. As the colony’s first harvest was gathered the Pilgrims celebrated with their Indian benefactors a feast, which is commonly recognized as the country’s first Thanksgiving.

But it was political and economic strife compounded by years of war and a fear for the future of the new nation that motivated Washington’s call for a national day of thanksgiving. By 1787, after eight long years of combat that pitted a ragtag army of local citizens against the British army and navy, arguably the most experienced well equipped military force in the western world, the nascent country was in political upheaval.

Each of the 13 colonies was trying to recover from the misery of war while maintaining some semblance of governance. By 1788, the loosely organized confederation of independent colonies finally coalesced into what is now the United States. But then as now, the exhaustion of conflict and the heated political disputes were tearing the at the seams of the nation, threatening its success.

On Oct. 3, 1789, at the behest of New Jersey Representative Elias Boudinot and the newly formed Congress, Washington issued a proclamation designating Thursday, Nov. 26 as a national day of thanks.

T. K. Byron, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at Dalton State College, notes that Washington’s request for a day of thanksgiving was as much a concern for the future of the country as it was to appreciate its successes against overwhelming odds. “In his proclamation,” Dr. Byron writes, “Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of America prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government.”

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.

(5) comments

dc

Anti-Americans are trying to destroy it too. They don't have to celebrate it, but that's not good enough for them.

drewski

Isnt it interesting that a small select group thinks they speak for all americans, when in fact they only speak for a small portion of the country. The message of America as melting pot, liberty and justice for all, seems to be at risk from this vocal and angry minority who think they know best for everyone.

David Collins

And that small select group would be who or whom ?

(Edited by staff.)

David Collins

Yes it is . Plays out every day on MSNBC , CNN , ABC , THE VIEW and a host of others . Homes of the smartest people on earth . Just ask them .

If so , why do they constantly get it wrong ?

JusticeForAll

This article is actually full of incorrect information. It may bring comfort to continue traditional thoughts, but until we can except reality, we will celebrate a turkey fairy tale.

Welcome to the discussion.

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