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What America’s First President, George Washington, said of Thanksgiving

Most children aren’t taught it isn’t today’s schools, but America’s first President, George Washington, is responsible for our Thanksgiving holiday. Many people credit Abraham Lincoln with the idea, some even give credit to the Pilgrims, but it was George Washington who first took the steps to make it a national event.

George Washington issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation – the first of its kind – on October 3, 1789. The proclamation designated “the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving” to be held on “Thursday the 26th of November,” of 1789. George Washington’s proclamation marked the creation of the first national thanksgiving celebration which has now become an annual tradition.

It is true that presidents who came after Washington did not follow in his footsteps by continuing to issue a national day of public thanksgiving, but Washington is the one who paved the way for Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. A little known fact is that Abraham Lincoln issued his proclamation on the same day, October 3rd, that George Washington issued the first thanksgiving proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln also marked the same Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26th, as set forth by President George Washington.

George Washington’s proclamation was printed in newspapers, perhaps most notably the October 9, 1789 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser. 

The first mention we have of a possible national Thanksgiving Holiday is in a private letter from George Washington to James Madison in August of 1789. The letter was penned a few months after Washington took office, and was asking for Madison’s advice on bringing the idea of a “day of thanksgiving” before the Senate.

According to MountVernon.org:

By the end of September 1789, a resolution had been introduced to the House of Representatives requesting that “a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving.” The committee put the resolution before the president and George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation within days.

Below is the entire text of George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

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.

Go: Washington



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