Bradford, Washington, Lincoln, and W: Thanksgiving Proclamations Thanking God and Encouraging Prayer!
The very first Thanksgiving Proclamation was made by William Bradford in 1623. At least that is how history records it. I have no doubt the Pilgrims were quite thankful when they landed in the “new world.” But history doesn’t record an official proclamation until several years later when Bradford, the governor of the colony, said these words:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings. —William Bradford, 1623
Official Thanksgiving Day proclamations were not recorded again until the Continental Congress did so during the Revolutionary War in 1777. Much like Bradford, the first Congress gave not just acknowledgement to God, but thanks, for His blessings. Part of that proclamation states:
Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased Him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of His common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties … :
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please Him graciously to afford His blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please Him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. … —Continental Congress, Nov 1, 1777
President George Washington, barely into his first term as president, in 1789, gave his first Thanksgiving Day proclamation and implored people to give to God “our sincere and humble thanks” for His many blessings. Washington also called on people 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.” Part is his proclamation says:
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. …
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. … — George Washington, Oct 3, 1789
In the middle of the Civil War in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a Thanksgiving Day proclamation asking people to give “praise to our beneficent Father” for his mercy. A portion of that proclamation reads:
… In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict. … No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union. … —Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863
In recent history President George W. Bush had the difficult task of calling America to give thanks just two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He did so by reminding us to “give thanks to God for the many blessing we enjoy as a free, faithful, and fair-minded land.” Part of his proclamation reads:
… During these extraordinary times, we find particular assurance from our Thanksgiving tradition, which reminds us that we, as a people and individually, always have reason to hope and trust in God, despite great adversity. …
As we recover from the terrible tragedies of September 11, Americans of every belief and heritage give thanks to God for the many blessings we enjoy as a free, faithful, and fair-minded land. … And let us give thanks for the millions of people of faith who have opened their hearts to those in need with love and prayer, bringing us a deeper unity and stronger resolve.
In thankfulness and humility, we acknowledge, especially now, our dependence on One greater than ourselves. On this day of Thanksgiving, let our thanksgiving be revealed in the compassionate support we render to our fellow citizens who are grieving unimaginable loss; and let us reach out with care to those in need of food, shelter, and words of hope. May Almighty God, who is our refuge and our strength in this time of trouble, watch over our homeland, protect us, and grant us patience, resolve, and wisdom in all that is to come. … —George W. Bush, November 16, 2001
Many other Thanksgiving Day proclamations have been given and they nearly all remind us to both acknowledge and thank God for his great blessings on America; and rightfully so. Some, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt call on Americans to seek God for guidance and direction and to use Thanksgiving as a day to “be observed in prayer, publicly and privately.”
I can think of nothing better to do on this blessed day than to thank God for His great mercy and blessing on America. Truly we live in the greatest country on earth. But, as many presidents past have done, we should also take time to seek God’s forgiveness for our sins – both individually and nationally. We should also pray for our elected leaders, that they would humbly seek God for guidance and wisdom. So as we celebrate this day of thanksgiving let us give the glory, praise, and thanks to God for all He has done. And let us humbly seek His continued blessing on our country recognizing that we are unworthy of such blessings and that it is only by God’s grace and pleasure that America is blessed.
To see all presidential proclamations you can click here.
(H/T to The Blaze for printing excerpts of these presidential proclamations.)