Most everyone knows the story of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, though not the whole story nor the real story. However, in some ways the numerous official days of thanksgiving are more important.
From the beginning, America has sought the protection of divine Providence, as one may see from the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…” dissolve the bonds with their mother country. Furthermore, the very last statement in the Declaration is “And for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” This, of course, was unanimously voted upon and the American people have celebrated this day of independence ever since.
Naturally, when one desires to rely upon divine Providence and asks for His protection, one ought to shoe their gratitude. During this time, Congress sought these days of thanksgiving. Congress declared on November 1, 1777, one of the first official days of thanksgiving to be held on the 18th of that month, just over one year from the time of the Declaration. They declared in part “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 to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defence and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a Measure to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops and to crown our Arms with most signal success.” They then recommended that the 18th be a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise.” They further recommended that the people give thanks, consecrate themselves to His service and to confess and beg a forgiveness of sins “through the Merits of Jesus Christ.” Finally, they recommended “that servile Labour, and such Recreation as, though other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.” This may be found in the Journals of the American Congress from 1774 to 1788.
It is clear what the intent of Congress and the American government had in mind in their creation of the first official Thanksgiving; it was to be a day of thanksgiving, worship, a day of repentance and consecration to God. It was not a day of turkeys, football, or any other recreation.
However, one might argue that Congress did this before the Founders created and ratified the Constitution that things changed under the Constitution. This, too, is false. The following is the full day proclamation by the President of the United States of America, George Washington in his first year as president.
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 and 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 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 has 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 shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, 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 one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
It is my hope that we will remember that Thanksgiving Day is not “turkey day” or a day of recreation in the form of football or anything else but that it is a day of giving thanks to God, consecrating ourselves to His service, asking for His forgiveness and pledging to become more like He wishes us to become.