President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Resource by

Katherine Bussard

Ex. Director & COO

Independence had been won. A new Constitution had been ratified. After a unanimous election, George Washington was serving his first year in the office of President of the United States, working with the first federal Congress in New York City’s Federal Hall as no capitol had yet been constructed. Then Representative James Madison wrote to a constituent, “Scarcely a day passes without some striking evidence of the delays and perplexities springing merely from the want of precedents.”1 The American Experiment of self-government was unlike anything attempted before, and the Founders knew it would not succeed without the aid of Divine Providence, who had miraculously brought them thus far. Both Houses of Congress approached President Washington with a proposal: a national day of Thanksgiving, where each individual could re-dedicate themselves to the service of the Almighty and render Him due praise for His abundant goodness and manifold blessings. A man of deep faith, President Washington gladly obliged. What follows in the proclamation he issued on October 3, 1789, instituting our first national Thanksgiving:

“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”2

  1. “Representative James Madison to Edmund Randolph, May 31, 1789.”“Scarcely%20a%20day%20passes%20without,from%20the%20want%20of%20precedents.%20”&text=The%20Congress%20of%20the%20United,Hall%20on%20March%204%2C%201789. ↩︎
  2. Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789 ↩︎

About the Author

Katherine Bussard
Ex. Director & COO
As Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Salt & Light Global, Katherine works to disciple servant-leaders in all walks of life, equipping them to share the redemptive love and truth of Jesus. She facilitates training in good governance for communities around the state, mentors other Christian women in leadership, and champions sound public policy. In speaking, writing, and serving, Katherine seeks to encourage the body of Christ to see all of who they are what they do through God’s Word. Katherine resides with her husband and partner in Kingdom service, Jeff.

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