At about this time in 1789, our country observes its first day of Thanksgiving and prayer. “[I]t is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God,” George Washington told the country, “to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor . . . .”
The sentiment wasn’t new. Indeed, Washington often expressed his conviction that America would not exist but for the intervention of divine Providence—and that public thanks is a duty incumbent upon Americans.
“The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving,” he told his soldiers at the end of the Revolution, “while the unparalleled perseverence of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.”
So, yes, today is a day to eat, spend time with family, and watch parades, but Washington would have said that there is more to this day, too. Given all the turmoil in the world, perhaps we should consider taking his advice?
“[I]t is, in an especial manner,” Washington said in 1795, “our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience.”
Happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone!
For more on George Washington's views about church and state, please check out the book I co-authored with Joseph C. Smith Jr.: Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State.