To 'The Great Lord and Ruler of Nations': Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation
When America broke off from Britain and became its own nation, it formed itself into a democratic republic. After George Washington refused to be crowned king (with a moral courage very few men in history have ever shown), America rejected monarchy altogether. This is Biblical government—as God tells the prophet Samuel in 1 Kings (8:7), when the Israelites ask for a king, “For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them.” Samuel tells the Israelites later that they have committed “evil” in asking for a king besides God (1 Kings 12:17). America memorialized its rejection of human kings in favor of the only perfect monarch by rewriting Britain’s “God Save the King” to end with, “Great God our king.” And, the day after Thanksgiving, I think there is nothing better to remember to be grateful for than that America has only had one king, and that the man who made this possible was the same who first established a US day of Thanksgiving.
Yesterday I wrote about how Thanksgiving (the first celebration of which occurred 400 years ago), was the emblematic American holiday, with a history rich in all that is best about America and the American spirit. I also gave a brief history of the holiday, from the Pilgrims to Lincoln’s official establishment of Thanksgiving. Today I would like to share the Thanksgiving Proclamation our first President (the man who would not be king), George Washington, issued in 1789. Washington’s Proclamation is a beautiful reminder not only that America has been greatly blessed, but that America can only be great if it stays close and obedient to its King, God.
“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.
[A]nd 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.