December 12, 2017

Six Thanksgiving Principles from President Washington’s Proclamation

Matt Recker

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation full of faith and wisdom, designating Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a national day of thanks for our new nation. I would like to note six thanksgiving principles from this first thanksgiving proclamation of our fledgling nation.

1. Thanksgiving to God is the duty of all nations: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God…”

Thanksgiving is not for one person or one nation, but for all people and all nations. Thanksgiving was to be a day of giving thanks to God alone, for His providence, His benefits, His goodness, to ask Him for continued protection and forgiveness of our sins. He is worthy.

2. Thanksgiving to God ought to include obedience to His will: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to … obey His will…”

While we thankfully acknowledge His providence, we must also “obey His will.” Thankful hearts result in surrendered hearts to His will.

3. Thanksgiving to God should be targeted and specific:

President Washington specifically thanks God for His care in leading us through the war, the peace we experienced after the war that resulted in the establishing of our constitutional form of government. Our President saw that God’s hand had given our infant nation great peace, unity, and prosperity since the victory of the patriots in the Revolutionary War, in the establishing of our constitutional form of government.

4. Thanksgiving includes an honest confession for our transgressions:

President Washington gave thanks for the civil and religious liberty that we enjoyed, and that we are to “offer our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” No one is without fault and we all need to confess our personal and national sins daily.

5. Thanksgiving to God leads one to see how you can be an encouragement and blessing to others.

President Washington also thought of how our nation could be a blessing to all people and all nations, by our “wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed.” His Thanksgiving Proclamation displays unselfishness and a heart to bless others.

6. Thanksgiving to God is forward looking and sees that both real faith and true science would bring about the greatest advancement possible.

Finally, President Washington wisely saw no contradiction between true religion and real science and asked that God would bless our nation with the “knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science.” President Washington saw that true faith coupled with an increase of true science would lead to future discoveries to result in greater temporal prosperity.

May God continue to have mercy on us all and may our hearts be filled with thanks to our great Lord Jesus Christ during this special season of the year. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 commands us all: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

President Washington’s full 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 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.

George Washington


Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

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