Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Everyone agrees that George Washington was critical for the formation of American’s values. Washington was conscious that his every act created a precedent for good or ill for all that would follow him. As our first president, everything he did established precedents for how our country was to work.

So, there is no accident that so many have sought to portray Washington as a man without faith. For if he exercised faith in the public square this in turn argues that the Judeo-Christian system still had relevance and vitality in the public square today.

In recent decades, the First Amendment to the Constitution has been construed to mean that there must be a strict separation of church and state and that there should be no religious expression allowed in the public arena. The first sentence of the amendment simply says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The very men who gave us the First Amendment did not intend to impose a radical separation of church and state that is advocated by so many today. In fact, the day after Congress adopted the words of the First Amendment, they sent a message to President Washington, asking him to declare a day of thanksgiving to show American’s appreciation to God for the opportunity to create America’s new national government in peace and tranquility. 

The following proclamation is what President Washington declared to the nation on October 3, 1789. That Proclamation of a National Day of Thanksgiving is below for you to ascertain what Washington believed concerning the relationship between religion and the state. He declared:

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 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 third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington

One cannot read those words without realizing how the Founders and Father of our Nation did not intend for God to be separated from our official acts. Rather, the Founders just did not want a national denomination, as they had experienced in England. They did not want to have an established church, since an established church took away religious liberty. So, the federal government was carefully designed to assure that there would not be an official state church that could force people to worship against their will, or could coerce people to finance the church’s budget and clergy salaries.

The Wall of Misconception by Peter A. Lillback (p. 160-163)


Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 · George Washington’s Mount Vernon  

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