Gratitude Strengthens a Nation: George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

With gratitude to God for superintending His Purpose in establishing this country, it is altogether fitting that George Washington, as father of our country, was the first president to proclaim Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

In the proclamation we hear echoes of the Declaration of Independence which established foundational principles of equality and unalienable rights and organizing powers under the Constitution to best affect the safety and happiness of this country’s citizens. What a beautiful tradition to begin so soon after the ratification of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 and Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789. 

I hope that you will take some time to share this beautiful piece of writing with your family, perhaps even around the Thanksgiving table. There are many virtues emphasized here. The wisdom imparted by the Father of our Country would benefit any gathering, especially an assembly of people who love one another dearly.

This is the wisdom that speaks to me, personally and profoundly. 

Here are some points to consider before reading Washington’s address:

  • At this time, our country was already expanding west into the Ohio, so the virtues that its citizens would need to take with them to establish strong communities was on Washington’s mind. The Northwest Ordinance had been passed and included this paragraph: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Washington includes the reference below to science at the end of the proclamation, punctuating the importance of education which is the science of truth as one whole in all subjects. 
  • Washington included a petition for forgiveness for public or private transgressions, a need to demonstrate reciprocation of duties we owe to God to do them properly and punctually. He wished for a national government to bless us with wise, just, and constitutional laws and reminded us of our duty to obey them.
  • Washington humbly calls upon God to bless other nations with similar benefits under the banner of true religion. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) From this directive, a generous God generally grants to all a degree of prosperity, for which we are in turn again indebted to Him with thankfulness. 

Looking at this proclamation you see gratitude to God and the foundational principles of our country, freedom of religion, moral virtue, and education. All this guided by duty to God and country. 

I again invite you to share this Proclamation with your family as part of your celebration. Below this address there is a way to download a pdf copy to print and distribute. 

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

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 tranquillity, 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.

Go: Washington

“Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0091. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 131–132.]

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Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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