Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling far this Thanksgiving, hopefully you’ll have some time for family fun and a bit of relaxation. At a convenient point during our family’s festivities, I’m going to pass around a copy of George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789. I would like my children, who are all now young adults, to read this, especially now. I say that after considering the kinds of conversations we’ve been having in our house in the past few months, about the election and it’s results, the announcement of the President’s Executive Order benefiting illegal immigrants, and the events in Ferguson.
In something like an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, I take such opportunities to point out the basic idea that we must look to God, not man. Still, I’ve wanted to point to something that shows a better example of public discourse and leadership than what’s become all too familiar for them.
By my reading, our first President’s words not only exemplify principled leadership, they provide advice for everyone1The history of how the Thanksgiving Proclamation came about is not only interesting, but provides additional examples of how differently members of the First Congress looked at questions of appropriate government actions..
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 course 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 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.
My study of history tells me that leaders who do not want power, who must be persuaded to serve and agree to out of a sense of duty are the most desirable. Does that sound like any elected official in your memory?
By all accounts, George Washington wanted to retire quietly to his farm, very much like Rome’s Cincinnatus. He resigned his commission from the Army once the Revolution was won and returned to his home. He had to be drafted to serve once again when called upon to be President. Some other leaders of the day wanted to make Washington King or President for life, but he knew this was a mistake. He served his two terms as President – the second, reluctantly – and then was finally able to retire, but only for a few years before he died. “He gave up everything to serve the Republic.”2This was the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Revolutionary War officers, formed in 1783, for which George Washington was the first President.
For more of our first President’s example and history, I highly recommend a read of an earlier article (one of the most read on the site), which is mostly Linda’s work, “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen”.
I am so thankful that there we have had such men as George Washington and the example of principles, and ideals which we can still look to — and follow, if we choose.
I’m sharing a “print-friendly” PDF version of it for anyone else who’d like to pass it around.
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe, painting public domain
General George Washington Resigning His Commission painting by John Trumbull, public domain
References & Notes [ + ]
|1.||↩||The history of how the Thanksgiving Proclamation came about is not only interesting, but provides additional examples of how differently members of the First Congress looked at questions of appropriate government actions.|
|2.||↩||This was the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Revolutionary War officers, formed in 1783, for which George Washington was the first President.|