To Whom Are We Thankful?


Today is the day we set aside in America to express our thanks. Thanksgiving is an American distinctive with deep religious roots. We pause as a nation, gather with family and friends and give thanks. But to whom are we thankful and for what? Thankfulness must have an object lest it become an expression of mere self-satisfaction.

We’re all pretty good at identifying those things for which we are thankful. And they are generally good and worthy things: Our families and friends, our nation, our freedoms, an election result, a new president, a job, a school, an opportunity, or our many material comforts. But to whom are we thankful? At one time we could answer that question without hesitation or equivocation. Much of America still can.

When George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789 he was explicit. He “acknowledge(d) the providence of Almighty God” and urged his countrymen to unite “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations.” We should do the same today and honor Almighty God who, in His perfect wisdom and sovereignty, has blessed this country and its people.

Thanksgiving is not just a day of fellowship, it is a day the nation set aside to humble itself before God in prayer. Let us not forget that first duty and let us spend time today with friends and family in earnest thankful prayer for the nation. We should follow the instruction of the Apostle Paul who urged Timothy “that  entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation is a good example.

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

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 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 favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, 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 trangressions; 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 1789.

Go. Washington

About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk

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2 responses to “To Whom Are We Thankful?”

  1. Five years ago, noted historian Thomas Fleming wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

    An English Thanksgiving, 1942:
    American soldiers followed in the footsteps of 17th-century Pilgrims and sat in the pew of Miles Standish.

    With Americans in uniform serving all over the world today, the idea of them celebrating Thanksgiving abroad does not strike anyone as unusual. With Americans locked in a world war in 1942, it certainly was.

    The hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops fighting the Axis powers in North Africa, the South Pacific and Europe celebrated the first global Thanksgiving as best they could, in the steel bulkheads of a warship’s mess or the canvas of a jungle tent. England—teeming with American soldiers and sailors and airmen, ready to defend our ally against a possible German invasion and beginning preparations for an assault on Nazi-conquered Europe—was another matter.

    In those dark days, Americans took special pleasure in displaying their homegrown holiday to the Mother Country. The English were dubious at first but slowly realized they were being invited to share in something very special…

    [This story was adapted from “An American Feast: Six Memorable Thanksgiving (The Thomas Fleming Library)” e-book, available at