Uniting in Thankfulness: A Decision 231 Years Ago
He was the new president of a new country. And in the fall of his first year, he received a resolution from the new American Congress.
On September 25, Elias Boudinot introduced into the House of Representatives a resolution that a joint committee of both the House and the Senate request that President Washington “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 Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”
Not surprisingly, some in the House objected.
“Why should the President,” Thomas Tudor Tucker argued, “direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do? They may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness. We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced…[this] is a business with which Congress have nothing to do.”
Yet others, citing Biblical precedents and resolutions of the (previous) Continental Congress, prevailed. The resolution passed on September 26. Three from the House (Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, and Peter Silvester) and two from the Senate (William Samuel Johnson and Ralph Izard) were to approach George Washington to this end.
On September 28, the committee laid the resolution before the President. Subsequently on October 3, Washington issued the Proclamation, one which designated Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a day of prayer and thanksgiving.
Washington distributed the proclamation as a circular through the governors of the newly formed United States, with this note:
United States (Octr 3d 1789)
I do myself the honor to enclose to your Excellency a Proclamation for a general Thanksgiving which I must request the favor of you to have published and made known in your State in the way and manner that shall be most agreeable to yourself. I have the honor to be your Excellency’s most obedient Servant
The proclamation itself :
[New York, 3 October 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 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 1789.
What a blessing to live in a land so founded!
May I urge you to spend some minutes in prayerful thanksgiving as you gather with family and friends. You may decide to have those with you read this proclamation together (out loud!) and then pray for the blessings that its sentences and phrases bring to mind.
“Give thanks always, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.