What George Washington Shows Us In His First Thanksgiving Proclamation

In 1789 both the House and Senate called on newly elected President George Washington to issue a proclamation of thanksgiving to God for His protection and blessing on their fledgling nation.

The proclamation is a call to prayer for both nation and people, for it understood that a virtuous nation could not be maintained without virtuous people. The exhortations to repentance and duty in both “private and public station” reveals that these early founders understood religion is the ground of culture. There is no liberty without virtue.

Civil and religious liberty were the reasons why the Early Americans sacrificed to the measure that they did. These virtues and thus these freedoms, cannot be comprehended apart from God because it is only by God that man perceives he is created to be free.

To the people who have forgotten God, the understanding that freedom and virtue work hand in hand exists only as an irrelevant echo. It results in a moral blindness of the first order and, over the span of a generation or two, the echo will grow silent and all that remains is the belief that man is no more than animal or machine.

History is memory, and memory tells us where we have been so that we might know where we should go. The history of America is is forged in Christian anthropology and teleology — God created man to be free, and that freedom imposes the obligation to encourage each other in the virtues by which liberty is nurtured and protected. That’s what Washington wanted his listeners to understand.

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

City of New York, October 3, 1789

george-washington-350x438Whereas 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 shown 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.

George Washington


  1. Dean calvert says

    Thanks for publishing this Fr. Hans!

    Illuminating to say the least.

    Happy Thanksgiving,


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