Washington Thanksgiving, 1789


Thanksgiving and Prayer

George Washington, 1789

Our nation is commonly referred to as a secular nation. Although we enjoy the privilege of separation of church and state, evidence, such as the following proclamation, clearly indicates that this separation did not mean that God and religion were unimportant to our nation’s leaders in the time following the Revolutionary War. In this proclamation, President George Washington invited the nation to join with him in devoting Thursday, November 26, 1789, to rendering unto Almighty God humble gratitude for the civil and religious freedoms enjoyed in this country. Interestingly, this proclamation primarily focuses on expressing gratitude for the civil freedoms and liberties that were won through the Revolutionary War, and preserved through the United States Constitution. Regardless of the general omission of any reference to religious freedoms, this proclamation is nevertheless important because it stands as an example of the great reverence for religion and for the frank acknowledgment of the hand of God in efforts to achieve independence and establish a republican government.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

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 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 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.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Source: I A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 56 (James D. Richardson ed., 1897).