Origins of the the Thanksgiving Celebration
Although the origins of Thanksgiving in America pre-date the 18th century, it was His Excellency, President George Washington, who issued the first United States proclamation calling on all Americans to give thanks to God on a specific date. Americans traditionally hold that Thanksgiving first took place at Plymouth colony in 1621. The Puritan settlers of Plymouth, also called Pilgrims, held the feast after their first successful harvest as a way of thanking God for their blessings. Nearby Indians were invited to share in the feast. This did not become an annual event. Instead the settlers of the colonies held days of thanksgiving at different times of year and without a consistent theme.
By the time of the American Revolution, days of fasting and thanksgiving became political. Most Americans viewed liberty as a gift from God. Days of fasting or thanksgiving proclaimed by the states promoted unity by, and helped instill commitment to, the Glorious Cause. During the American war for independence, state assemblies set aside days of prayer to recognize specific military victories. In 1777, the stunning victory over the British at Saratoga, New York was a game changer. Instead of state legislatures marking it with celebrations, the Continental Congress suggested that a national day be set aside to recognize that decisive victory. The Commander-in Chief, General George Washington agreed. He proclaimed December 18, 1777 as the first national thanksgiving day. The Continental Congress supported various similar proclamations until 1784.
|British surrender at Saratoga spurred a|
December 1777 Thanksgiving proclamation
On 25 September 1789 New Jersey's Elias Boudinot (a devout Presbyterian) made a motion in the United States House of Representatives for a resolution that stated “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 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 Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.” The purpose this time was to thank the Almighty for the new constitution and the new form of government - created with about as much sweat and tears as independence itself. The founders and the members of the new government made no distinction between the blessings of independence and the new republic and God's grace. To them, the former stemmed from the latter. This we should remember each Thanksgiving.
President Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation
New York, 3 October 1789
By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
|Washington issued the nation's first|
Proclamation of Thanksgiving
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 tranquillity, 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.