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History of Thanksgiving: George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation - 1789

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The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a thanksgiving festival held by Plymouth colony in December 1621, although such celebrations date from ancient times. The idea of a day set apart to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to render homage to the Spirit who caused the fruits and crops to grow is ancient and universal. The practice of designating a day of thanksgiving for specific spiritual or secular benefits has been followed in many countries. From early colonial times the various American colonies celebrated thanksgiving days in recognition of such happy events as good harvests and victories over the Indians.

One of the first proclamations was made in Charleston, Massachusetts in 1676. President George Washington in 1789 issued the first presidential thanksgiving proclamation in honor of the new constitution. During the 19th century an increasing number of states observed the day annually, each appointing its own day. President Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, by presidential proclamation appointed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, due to the unremitting efforts of Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book.

Each succeeding president made similar proclamations until Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939 appointed the third Thursday of November, primarily to allow a special holiday weekend for national public holiday. This was changed two years later by both congress and the President to the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving Day remains a day when many express gratitude to God for blessings and celebrate material bounty


"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 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 twenty-six 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 single manifold mercies, and the favorable interposition's of His providence, in the courage 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 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 institutions, 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, discretely 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."

Nov. 6, 1998.