On October 3, 1789, George Washington issued his famous Thanksgiving proclamation, marking the first celebration of a holiday that, over the years, would become a staple of American culture. Later presidents did not maintain Washington’s tradition, but eventually Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on the same day in 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in the death of 50,000 Americans, yet it was a victory for the North. With this victory in recent memory, Lincoln followed in the footsteps of Washington by proclaiming a day of national thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation was printed in American newspapers, and today Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most important holidays.
The upper-school students at Belmont Classical Academy will read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in their Western Heritage class after returning from break. The students will learn that Washington considered Thanksgiving a holiday that requires gratitude for the many gifts that God has given to us. "It is to God," said Washington, "that we should direct our thanks for all that we have. It is both our right as well as our corresponding duty to give God thanks." Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation shows that he believed religion should play an important role in public American life. As Russell Kirk writes in The Roots of American Order, a core text of our history curriculum, “the framers of the Constitution took it for granted that a moral order, founded upon religious beliefs, supports and parallels the political order” (439).
Like the upper-school students of Belmont Classical Academy, consider reading Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation :
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 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 encrease 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.
By Darrell Falconburg
Western Heritage and Logic Teacher