By unanimous vote on February 4, 1789, George Washington was elected President of the United States of America—our first, and the only one to win unanimously. Washington was reluctant to serve, having spent so many years aways from his beloved Mount Vernon during the Revolutionary War, but he saw himself as a servant of the people and agreed to take up the mantle of leadership once again. Washington found the presidency confining and, after eight years, was happy to leave it into the hands of John Adams.
Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789, in New York City, the then capital of the country. By the time of Congress’ September recess, Washington was ready to flee the city and see the land, to discover whether the citizens of the newly formed United States had embraced their new republican government. Today, in what we would call a “Bus Tour,” Washington mapped out a monthlong carriage tour of New England. Riding through the countryside in an open carriage, whenever they came near a village or town, the carriage would stop and Washington would mount a white steed and ride in with striking dignity.
However, before Washington departed on his tour he issued a proclamation for the first Thanksgiving to be observed on November 26. In his proclamation, Washington declared a national day of thinks was necessary because it was due to Providence that America had recently won her independence and had established a constitutional government. Washington distributed his proclamation to state governors, requesting they announce and observe the day with appropriate solemnity and gratitude to the Almighty. Newspapers published the proclamation and public services and celebrations were held across the country. Washington marked the day by attending services at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City, and by donating barrels of beer and bushels of food to those confined in the city’s debtors prison.
As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, we would be wise to spend a few moments reading Washington’s proclamation and making his prayer our own.
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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 join 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 established 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 united in most humble 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 law, 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.
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