Is Washington’s Original Thanksgiving Day Proclamation a Warning for All?

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 increase 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.

Go: Washington

A Thanksgiving Warning

Aside from the blatant references to the God in this Presidential proclamation that would surely ruffle the feathers of those who cry for the separation of God from government, this proclamation by Washington moves me to consider the unspoken warning in what Washington doesn’t say.

What if we refuse? What if we stop being thankful for God’s blessings? What then?

I know that being thankful isn’t about any one day. But we’ve heard a lot recently about shoppers skipping Thanksgiving Day to secure a spot in line. We’ve heard about the stores forcing workers to skip the holiday so they can compete with online retailers. Those who will shop on-line with a few clicks instead readily ridicule those hitting the malls, although I’m not sure our heart conditions are really that different.

Are we really thankful for anything anymore? If it’s not worth our time to take day off and focus our gratitude toward the One who gave such unprecedented blessings, do we deserve what we have? Better yet, will we be permitted to keep it.

The Biblical patterns would seem to suggest that the answer will be “No.” Consider these sobering words from Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. [emphasis mine]

If I read this right, we humans have a tendency to not be thankful for God and what He has done on our behalf. We tend to exchange (apparently we kept the receipt) appreciation of Him for appreciation of His stuff. We skip offering prayers of Thanksgiving for granting us a land of plenty because we’re out collecting more of that plenty to cram into our already full storehouses.

Claiming to be getting the best bargains, we become fools.

And I’m not just talking about those of us who are in the stores. Greed can take many forms.

What Happens Next?

And what will result? The writer of Romans continues:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts…. (v.24)

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions…. (v. 26)

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind…. (v. 28)

There seems to be a pattern here. When we refuse to be thankful to God, we want whatever it is we don’t have. The tragic result of our failing to be thankful is that God gives us what we want instead. And what we want destroys us.

We see the same pattern repeated when Israel was not thankful for the government God had put in place over them — nearly a pure theocracy with God Himself at the head. No, they desired a human king, like all their neighbors had  — the very latest model. God warned them that their thanklessness would be harmful, but they persisted in their demand.

So God gave it to them. Almost four thousand years later, the headlines are still full of the painful consequences of their decision.

Could it be that America will fall, not from barbarians without, but from a lack of gratitude within. Will God simply give us all that we want?

And will all that we want simply destroy us?

That’s it for me today. I’m taking time to pray and think about God’s goodness to me, my family, and my nation. Why not join me? Here are just a few of the many things I’m thankful for: 101 and counting….

We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness…. (Ps. 48:9)

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  • Jennifer

    Thankfulness takes time. Our active and conscious attention is required to give our thanks for something we have received. And this act of bringing gifts to awareness helps us to fully realize the abundance we have been given. Not only did we get something something (“yeah!”), but we come to know that we have been GIVEN something. We are in a relationship that is ever strengthened by our thanks. If we refuse to give thanks – or simply don’t think about it – we don’t give thought to this relationship. We risk ending up like the spoiled child who is forever looking to the next toy to fill the emptiness inside. He may get it, but the happiness is short lived. It’s not “stuff” that we yearn for.

  • DougS

    Happy Thanksgiving Bill!!!

    What jumped out at me from Washington’s speech was the phrase “temporal prosperity”. With the current economy, or any time, any of us could find today’s prosperity gone tomorrow. Hence build your treasures in heaven.

    I struggle with ways to bring up the next generation with a thankful appreciation for what God has provided. The picture above “Define Necessity” says volumes and I intend to show it to my kids. I welcome your thoughts on more ways to teach thankfulness to kids.

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you, Doug. Sort of trying to do that now as we walk this walk of faith. Thinking this Christmas we’ll be cutting back even more than usual on the physical stuff — and that could be a very good thing for all.