Op-Ed: 6 Things George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation Urged Us To Be Thankful For


In the city of New York on the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789, George Washington presented the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Both chambers of Congress requested him “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.”

But where are those grateful hearts here and now in the year of our Lord 2020?

Looking around the U.S. today, it seems that the mainstream media and the teaching in most schools and colleges have not encouraged grateful hearts.

Rather, they have directed students to dwell exclusively on all they think is wrong with their country, with eyes and ears tightly shut to everything that is right and good within it.

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Thanksgiving’s Focus Must Be Almighty God — Not the Almighty Providence of a Socialist State

That very first Congress established Thanksgiving because “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.”

But too many Americans today have no eye to their duty — only to their rights. Some genuine rights, such as the right to life, have been perverted into spurious rights such as the “right” to abortion.

It is surely not the will of Almighty God that a mother abandon her natural duty to nurture and protect her unborn child so as to be able to commission the “lawful” killing of “the infant stirring in the mother’s womb” (the Founders’ term that was employed to recognize and explain legal protection for the unborn.)


Too many people today fail to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God. They respect only the almighty providence of a socialist government levying increased taxes to provide often dubious benefits, protections and favor.

Too many in their pride reject Almighty God, refuse to obey his will or be grateful for his benefits. In their pride, they no longer have any capacity humbly to implore his protection and favor.

In short, they have no real understanding of the genuine concept of Thanksgiving.

George Washington on Giving Thanks

Washington assigned Thanksgiving “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…”

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Washington then set out some of the good things for which they, the people, were grateful:

“[F]or 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.”

Who today will make a bipartisan list of the things with which we are blessed?

Humbleness — A Concept Accentuated Three Times in the Thanksgiving Proclamation

In the short Thanksgiving Proclamation, George Washington and the first Congress were big on humbleness before God.

First came their prayer of humble petition:

Recognizing “the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God,” they sought “humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

Second came their prayer of humble thanks:

They recommended that Thanksgiving day be a day “devoted by the People of these States” to the service of God “[t]hat we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks.”

Third came their humble prayer for pardon.

They sought to “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.”

It takes humble hearts to ask for and to accept forgiveness.

God’s Forgiveness “To Enable Us All”

Emerging shaken but wiser from the searing tragedies, the loss of lives and the chaos of war, Washington and the Congress grasped this one very significant truth: When we humbly ask God’s pardon for our nation’s transgressions and our own personal transgressions, that pardon is given us.

It is God’s forgiveness that enables us to rise from the ashes of repentance and humbly to move on to do wise and good things in private life and in public for our families and for our nation.

Washington and that first Congress were gifted with the profound truth that it is our contrition that draws God’s pardon and restores our will to do good and avoid evil.

It is God’s forgiveness that is “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.”

And When God Forgives…

Who are we, then, to hold on grimly to resentment and bitter unforgiveness for old injustices against us or against others? And when God forgives us, who are we to demand or to proffer clumsy monetary “compensations” for the most grievous sins of the past?

True contrition points us to righting the wrongs we are doing today. Our sorrow and practical struggle must be concentrated on the current injustices that we can and must address right now in our hurting families and communities and in our troubled nation.

Indeed, where God has forgiven, there is new wisdom and courage, a new incentive and ability to do good and great things in his world.

Washington and that first Congress got this right in their Thanksgiving Proclamation in which “most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations,” they beseeched him “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.”

That’s a lot to think about. So lift up grateful hearts and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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