Which President first proclaimed Thanksgiving day?



A FEW days before the first session of Congress adjourned in September, 1781 that body, by resolution, requested President Washington to recommend a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by the people of the whole nation, in acknowledgment of the signal favor of the Almighty in permitting them to establish in peace a free government. Washington issued a proclamation to that effect. It was the first call for a national thanksgiving since the establishment of the new government. On the same day (October 3, 1790) he wrote in his diary: "Sat for Mr. Rammage (an Irish artist) near two hours to-day, who was drawing a miniature picture of me for Mrs. Washington. Walked in the afternoon, and sat at two o'clock for Madame de Brehan (or Brienne, sister of the French minister Moustier), to complete a miniature profile of me which she had begun from memory, and which she had made exceedingly like the original."

The President appointed Thursday, the 26th of November, as the day for the national thanksgiving, and on the 15th of October, he set out on his journey to New England. Rhode Island, not having yet adopted the new Constitution, was not in the Union, and he did not tread upon its soil, but went to Boston by way of Hartford, Springfield and Worcester, arriving there on Saturday, the 24th. There he had an official tilt with John Hancock, who was then governor of Massachusetts. Hancock had invited Washington to lodge at his house in Boston. The invitation was declined. After the arrival of the President, the governor sent him an invitation to dine with him and his family, informally, that day, at the conclusion of the public reception ceremonies. It was accepted by Washington, with a full persuasion that the governor would call upon him before the dinner hour. But Hancock had conceived the proud notion that the governor of a State within his own domain was officially superior to the President of the United States when he came into it. He had laid his plans for asserting this superiority by having Washington visit him first, and to this end he had sent him the invitations to lodge and dine with him. At near the time for dinner, as Washington did not appear, Hancock evidently felt some misgivings, for he sent his secretary to the President with an excuse that he was too ill to call upon his Excellency in person. The latter divined the nature of the "indisposition," and dined at his own lodgings at "the widow Ingersolls," with a single guest. That evening the governor, feeling uneasy, sent his lieutenant and two of his council to express his regret that his illness had not allowed him to call upon the President. "I informed them explicitly," Washington wrote in his diary, "that I should not see the governor except at my lodgings." This took the conceit entirely out of Hancock, who was well enough the next day (Sunday) to call upon Washington and repeat, in person, the insufficient excuse for his own folly.

The President extended his visit eastward as far as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he sat to a persistent portrait painter named Gulligher, who had followed him from Boston. From that point he took a more northerly route back to Hartford, and arrived at New York on the 13th of November.





Return to Our Country, Vol II