Legal Quote of the Week: The First Thanksgiving Proclamation of the United States

On October 31, 1777, following the Colonial victories over British General John Burgoyne in the Battles of Saratoga, Henry Laurens of South Carolina, then President of the Continental Congress, appointed a committee of Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, and General Daniel Roberdeau, then residing in York, Pennsylvania, to formulate a draft National Thanksgiving Proclamation. The next day, the committee delivered the following proclamation, which was unanimously adopted by Congress:


FORASMUCH as it is the indispensible duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligations 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:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one time and with 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 sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications 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 blessing 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 human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE. That it may please him, to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people, and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet 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.”

And it is further recommended, that servile labour, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, may be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

By order of CONGRESS, HENRY LAURENS, President.

The Thanksgiving Day Proclamations of the Congresses and Presidents are available on the What So Proudly We Hail website. And the book What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song (which George Will reviewed as “magnificent . . . a civic education in one volume”) is available here.