In this section you will find proclamations from Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. There is a link to the on-line book, “Prayers and Presidents” at the bottom of this page.
In 1789 Congress invited newly-elected President, George Washington, to invite the nation to participate in a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” The chosen day was Thursday, November 26, 1789.
Throughout our country’s history, Congress and Presidents have given proclamations for days of fasting and prayer, and times of giving thanks for the blessings of Providence.
Some Americans still living are old enough to remember the prayers of Franklin D. Roosevelt during his World War II Fireside Chats. Other Presidents have given non-denominational prayers for our military, or in times of national calamities. Regard for sacred practices and beliefs is part of our American heritage; Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation serves as a reminder that, although America has no official state church, reliance upon the Divine to aid us in our devotion to virtue and civility are what make self-government possible. Below is the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation of President George Washington.
Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
New York, 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 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 shewn 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.
John Adams, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Vice President, and the second President of the United States of America served as President from 1797 to 1801. As America’s President he issued on March 6, 1799 a proclamation recommending a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer. Adams sought to remind his fellow citizens that their form of government, self-government required the people to live their lives with virtue. Adams invited all Americans to, “devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private” and “yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions”. Adams’ quotes scripture in his proclamation “Righteousness exalteth a nation” (KJV. Proverbs 14:34) and calls upon Providence to “extend the blessings of knowledge, of true liberty, and of pure and undefiled religion throughout the world.” Adam’s proclamation harmonizes with Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of The Declaration of Independence who declared:
“The only foundation for a…republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty- – -“
Those who participated in the American Revolution, sacrificed and struggled for independence and to secure liberty and freedom did not want to lose what they had fought so hard to attain. They understood the ideals of self-government, they understood both the price paid to have it, and the requirements that must be met to keep it.
By the President of the United States of America
March 6, 1799 – Washington D.C.
As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributer of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities; as it is also most reasonable in itself that men who are made capable of social acts and relations, who owe their improvements to the social state, and who derive their enjoyments from it, should, as a society, make their acknowledgments of dependence and obligation to Him who hath endowed them with these capacities and elevated them in the scale of existence by these distinctions; as it is likewise a plain dictate of duty and a strong sentiment of nature that in circumstances of great urgency and seasons of imminent danger earnest and particular supplications should be made to Him who is able to defend or to destroy; as, moreover, the most precious interests of the people of the United States are still held in jeopardy by the hostile designs and insidious acts of a foreign nation, as well as by the dissemination among them of those principles, subversive of the foundations of all religious, moral, and social obligations, that have produced incalculable mischief and misery in other countries; and as, in fine, the observance of special seasons for public religious solemnities is happily calculated to avert the evils which we ought to deprecate and to excite to the performance of the duties which we ought to discharge by calling and fixing the attention of the people at large to the momentous truths already recited, by affording opportunity to teach and inculcate them by animating devotion and giving to it the character of a national act:
For these reasons I have thought proper to recommend, and I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the 25th day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people;” that He would turn us from our transgressions and turn His displeasure from us; that He would withhold us from unreasonable discontent, from disunion, faction, sedition, and insurrection; that He would preserve our country from the desolating sword; that He would save our cities and towns from a repetition of those awful pestilential visitations under which they have lately suffered so severely, and that the health of our inhabitants generally may be precious in His sight; that He would favor us with fruitful seasons and so bless the labors of the husbandman as that there may be food in abundance for man and beast; that He would prosper our commerce, manufactures, and fisheries, and give success to the people in all their lawful industry and enterprise; that He would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion; that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well; that He would preside over the councils of the nation at this critical period, enlighten them to a just discernment of the public interest, and save them from mistake, division, and discord; that He would make succeed our preparations for defense and bless our armaments by land and by sea; that He would put an end to the effusion of human blood and the accumulation of human misery among the contending nations of the earth by disposing them to justice, to equity, to benevolence, and to peace; and that he would extend the blessings of knowledge, of true liberty, and of pure and undefiled religion throughout the world.
And I do also recommend that with these acts of humiliation, penitence, and prayer fervent thanksgiving to the Author of All Good be united for the countless favors which He is still continuing to the people of the United States, and which render their condition as a nation eminently happy when compared with the lot of others.
Thomas Jefferson, remembered as the author of The Declaration of Independence and America’s third President (1801-1809) served as the Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War. In 1779, four years before the war would conclude, Jefferson issued “this my proclamation” to the citizens of Virginia. In his proclamation he acknowledges the many miracles given to the colonists in their war for independence and expresses to them the importance of having gratitude to Providence for His many blessings. In Jefferson’s proclamation we are reminded again of the necessity of religion and virtue to self-governance or “independence” as he asks the Divine to “establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety.”
Proclamation Appointing a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer
November 11, 1779
WHEREAS the Honourable the General Congress, impressed with a grateful sense of the goodness of Almighty God, in blessing the greater part of this extensive continent with plentiful harvests, crowning our arms with repeated successes, conducting us hitherto safely through the perils with which we have been encompassed and manifesting in multiplied instances his divine care of these infant states, hath thought proper by their act of the 20th day of October last, to recommend to the several states that Thursday the 9th of December next be appointed a day of publick and solemn thanksgiving and prayer, which act is in these words, to wit.
“Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise, for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our forefathers to this western world; for his protection to them and to their posterity, amidst difficulties and dangers; for raising us their children from deep distress, to be numbered among the nations of the earth; and for arming the hands of just and mighty Princes in our deliverance; and especially for that he hath been pleased to grant us the enjoyment of health and so to order the revolving seasons, that the earth hath produced her increase in abundance, blessing the labours of the husbandman, and spreading plenty through the land; that he hath prospered our arms and those of our ally, been a shield to our troops in the hour of danger, pointed their swords to victory, and led them in triumph over the bulwarks of the foe; that he hath gone with those who went out into the wilderness against the savage tribes; that he hath stayed the hand of the spoiler, and turned back his meditated destruction; that he hath prospered our commerce, and given success to those who sought the enemy on the face of the deep; and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory. Therefore,
Resolved, that it be recommended to the several states to appoint THURSDAY the 9th of December next, to be a day of publick and solemn THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for his mercies, and of PRAYER, for the continuance of his favour and protection to these United States; to beseech him that he would be graciously pleased to influence our publick Councils, and bless them with wisdom from on high, with unanimity, firmness and success; that he would go forth with our hosts and crown our arms with victory; that he would grant to his church, the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all Ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; that he would smile upon the labours of his people, and cause the earth to bring forth her fruits in abundance, that we may with gratitude and gladness enjoy them; that he would take into his holy protection, our illustrious ally, give him victory over his enemies, and render him finally great, as the father of his people, and the protector of the rights of mankind; that he would graciously be pleased to turn the hearts of our enemies, and to dispence the blessings of peace to contending nations.
That he would in mercy look down upon us, pardon all our sins, and receive us into his favour; and finally, that he would establish the independance of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety.”
I do therefore by authority from the General Assembly issue this my proclamation, hereby appointing Thursday the 9th day of December next, a day of publick and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God, earnestly recommending to all the good people of this commonwealth, to set apart the said day for those purposes, and to the several Ministers of religion to meet their respective societies thereon, to assist them in their prayers, edify them with their discourses, and generally to perform the sacred duties of their function, proper for the occasion.
Given under my hand and the seal of the commonwealth, at Williamsburg, this 11th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1779, and in the fourth of the commonwealth.
James Madison considered the “Father of the Constitution” was the genius who developed the Virginia plan to eliminate the Articles of Confederation and establish the United Sates Constitution. As America’s fourth President (1809-1817) he served at a precarious time in our county’s history as the War of 1812 brought the wrath of Great Britain once again to America’s shores. On June 18, 1812 the war formally begun. Less than a month later, President Madison was seeking the prayers of the nation and invoking the importance of the “golden rule”.
Proclamation of Day of Fasting and Prayer
July 9, 1812
Whereas the Congress of the United States, by a joint resolution of the two Houses, have signified a request that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of public humiliation and prayer; and
Whereas such a recommendation will enable the several religious denominations and societies so disposed to offer at one and the same time their common vows and adorations to Almighty God on the solemn occasion produced by the war in which He has been pleased to permit the injustice of a foreign power to involve these United States:
I do therefore recommend the third Thursday in August next as a convenient day to be set apart for the devout purposes of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of Mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking His merciful forgiveness and His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment, and especially of offering fervent supplications that in the present season of calamity and war He would take the American people under His peculiar care and protection; that He would guide their public councils, animate their patriotism, and bestow His blessing on their arms; that He would inspire all nations with a love of justice and of concord and with a reverence for the unerring precept of our holy religion to do to others as they would require that others should do to them; and, finally, that, turning the hearts of our enemies from the violence and injustice which sway their councils against us, He would hasten a restoration of the blessings of peace.
Given at Washington, the 9th day of July, A. D. 1812.
By the President: JAMES MADISON.
Secretary of State: JAMES MONROE
On December 24, 1814 the Treaty of Ghent was signed to end the War of 1812. The signed treaty made its way to America where on February 17, 1815 it was quickly ratified and officially ended the war. A few weeks later Congress and the President recommend to the people of the United States a day of Thanksgiving.
Proclamation 20 – Recommending a Day of Public Thanksgiving for Peace
By the President of the United States of America
March 4, 1815
The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace.
No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days. Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition. During the interval which succeeded He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights and to enhance their national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated by a peace and reconciliation with those who have been our enemies. And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.
It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assemblies unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.
Given at the city of Washington on the 4th day of March, A. D. 1815, and of the Independence of the United States the thirty- ninth.
“Deeply impressed with the blessings which we enjoy, and of
which we have such manifold proofs, my mind is irresistibly drawn to
that Almighty Being, the great source from whence they proceed and
to whom our most grateful acknowledgments are due.”
–James Monroe, 5th President of the United States of America
December 3, 1821, 5th Annual Message
“The establishment of our institutions forms the most important
epoch that history hath recorded…To preserve and hand them down
in their utmost purity to the remotest ages will require the existence
and practice of the virtues and talents equal to those which were
displayed in acquiring them.”
— Statement made by James Monroe
Source: National Day of Prayer Edition on-line book: Prayers and Presidents — Inspiring Faith From Leaders From the Past by William J. Federer.