Authors note: This was originally published on Nov. 26 2008 … offering it again as a repost…enjoy!
George Washington was our first president to observe a day of Thanksgiving at the urging of congress in 1789 as a Nation. Although it wasn’t the first time that he rallied the colonies to collective observance. In 1777 he issued General Orders as Commander in Chief of the Continental forces to observe a day of thankgiving.
Thanksgiving was not established as a national holiday tradition in 1789 as it was not regularly observed as a national holiday until Oct 3 1863 proclaimed to be on the 4th Thursday of November by President Abraham Lincoln. Although the day shifted a few times since 1863 it has been traditionally observed as a national holiday on the 4th Thursday of November ever since.
Presidents Adams, and Madison both declared a national day of thanksgiving during their administrations. Although Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams did not declare national observances both citing concerns for state influence on how religious observances may differ in their thanksgiving traditions. Others might twist this and say they were concerned about violating separation from church and state by forcing the non-religious to observe a tradition of thanksgiving to deity. Clearly giving thanks to God is at the heart of this tradition.
It is evidenced that the founding of this Nation has been under God. Recognizing the need to give thanks to our God for the outcome of the Revolutionary War, Congress boldy proclaimed the following on October 11, 1782:
By the United States in Congress assembled.
IT being the indispensable duty of all Nations, not only to offer up their supplications to ALMIGHTY GOD, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his providence in their behalf: Therefore the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these States, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war, in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their Allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States, and those of their Allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States:—– Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress, at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.
JOHN HANSON, President.
Charles Thomson, Secretary.
In the words of Washington in 1789 declaration of observance:
“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 and 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 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 has 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 to us), and to bless them with good governments, 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.”
Prominently remembered editor of Lady’s Book magazine editor Sarah Hale, who had been campaigning for an established national holiday observance for 17 years concerning Thanksgiving, wrote the following in a letter to President Lincoln circa 1863.
“The influence of these state seasons of sacred remembrances, high aspirations, and tender . . . rejoicings would not only be salutary on the character of our own citizens, but the world would be made better . . . . If the germ of good feeling be ever so deeply buried under ‘the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life,’ it may be brought out by sympathy and vivified by culture and effort.” emphasis is mine
May we continue to give thanks as a nation to our God, and remember that we are one nation under God…