First U.S. Thanksgiving Proclamation was to Honor U.S. Constitution

December 1, 2002

by Mary Mostert, Analyst - Banner of Liberty

The Colonists had been through eight years of war, the first shots having been fired on April 19, 1775 at Lexington in the Massachusetts Colony. The fighting ended on November 25, 1783 when the beaten British Army boarded their ships in New York Harbor. The next day loyal New York patriots who had been driven from their homes by the British sent a message to General George Washington that said, in part, “by your wisdom and energy, under the guidance of Providence, the city is once more the seat of peace and freedom.”

During the next few years the new independent states organized new governments and the weaknesses of the Continental Congress became painfully obvious. Following a rebellion by destitute farmers, led by Daniel Shay in 1786, many of the men who had signed the Declaration of Independence met in Philadelphia to resolve the problems. They wrote, and on September 17, 1787 adopted, the United States Constitution. By June of 1788 nine states had approved the new Constitution and on April 6, 1789 with 69 Electoral College votes George Washington was unanimously elected as the first president of the new nation.

On September 24, 1789, Elias Boudinot of Burlington, New Jersey, introduced in the House of Representatives a resolution for 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."

It was not passed unanimously. Some argued that perhaps some citizens would not WANT to take a day off to celebrate the writing, and adoption of the Constitution. But, in the end, the House appointed a committee consisting of Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, and Peter Silvester to approach President Washington. The Senate agreed to the resolution on 26 September and appointed William Samuel Johnson and Ralph Izard to the joint committee. On 28 September the Senate committee reported that they had laid the resolution before President Washington and on October 3, 1789, Washington issued the following proclamation:

The First Thanksgiving Proclamation

New York, 3 October 1789

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 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 onto 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.”

In this modern era about the only thing most public school children know about Thanksgiving is about turkeys, pilgrims and corn. Perhaps this Thanksgiving week-end would be a very good time to teach your children, and remind your government officials via-email, that the very first Thanksgiving celebrated in the United States of America was all about being thankful for “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.”

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Mary Mostert was writing professionally on political issues as a teen-ager in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940s. In the 1960s, she wrote a weekly column for the Rochester Times Union, a Gannett paper and was one of 52 American women who attended the 17 Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to ban testing of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. She was a licensed building contractor for 29 years, as she raised her six children. She served an 18 month mission as Public Affairs Director for the Africa Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1990-91. In the 1990s she wrote a book, Coming Home, Families Can Stop the Unraveling of America, edited the Reagan Monthly Monitor and talk show host Michael Reagan’s Information Interchange for seven years. She now operates the website, Banner of Liberty.

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