Monday, October 7, 2013

George Washington's Original Thanksgiving Proclamation $8-$12 Million

by Stephen J. Gertz

The original manuscript proclamation establishing the first federal Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America is being offered by Christie's-New York on Thursday evening November 14, 2013 in a  single-lot special event sale. Signed by George Washington on October 3, 1789 it is estimated to sell for $8,000,000 - $12,000,000.

The proclamation reads in full:

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 shown 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.

Prior to its sale, the proclamation will be on tour, exhibited October 17-20 in Los Angeles at the Reagan Library; October 22 in Dallas at the Harlan Crow Library; October 24 at Christie's-Chicago; October 30 in Boston; November 4 in Washington, D.C. at the Library of Congress; November 5 in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center; and November 7-13 in New York at Christie's Galleries.

The proclamation followed the request to President Washington by the House and Senate, on the day after ratification of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for “the many signal favors of Almighty God." Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey said that he “could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them" (The Annals of the Congress, The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States 1, Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, pp. 949–950).

Massachusetts Centinel, October 14, 1789.

This was not the first time that a day of thanksgiving had been proclaimed. On October 11, 1782, John Hanson, first president of the newly independent United States under the Articles of Confederation, declared the fourth Thursday of every November to be a national Thanksgiving Day. The holiday, however, was by the authority of each state, not the national government. Under the new Constitution it was to be a federal holiday.

But not an annual observation. George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day in 1795. John Adams declared Thanksgiving Days in 1798 and 1799. In response to resolutions in Congress at the close of the War of 1812, James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814 and 1815. But it was not until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day on October 3, 1863 to occur in November of that year that the holiday has been annually celebrated.

Washington's proclamation is a foundational document in the history of the United States of America's grand national tradition of Thanksgiving. One of the great documents of Americana, it's no turkey.

Document images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Washington Post, with our thanks.

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