The “Father of our Country,” George Washington, the first President of the United States, declared the first national Thanksgiving Day in his first year and first term of office, to be observed on the 26th of November, 1789: Thanksgiving Proclamation, 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 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 shown 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. Geo. Washington
(See GW Papers, UVA, National Archives, Text, History of Thanksgiving National Holiday)
Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1863 and since then (with a brief interlude in 1939 when it was shifted to the 3rd Thursday), Thanksgiving has been observed on the 4th Thursday of every November.
Washington’s proclamation serves as a model and guide for every generation. These were his “prayer targets” and point for point, modified for our current circumstance, they can, and I believe should be used in our prayers, today.
This proclamation, in keeping with Washington’s private prayers published after his death, the Thanksgiving proclamations of the Continental Congresses, and Colonial Governors and legislatures for decades prior to the Founding, all mixed thanksgiving with humble prayers for the pardon of our personal and national transgressions.