By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
The text presented is from the Library of Congress and is transcribed from the hand-written original. President Washington's proclamation was published at the time, in such places as The Massachusetts Centinel of Wednesday, October 14, 1789.
Shortly after the Thanksgiving Proclamation was written, it was lost for 130 years. The original document was written in long hand by William Jackson, secretary to the President, and was then signed by George Washington. It was probably misplaced or mixed in with some private papers when the US capitol moved from New York to Washington, D.C. The original manuscript was not placed in the National Archives until 1921 when Dr. J. C. Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress found the proclamation at an auction sale being held at an art gallery in New York. Dr Fitzpatrick purchased the document for $300.00 for the Library of Congress, in which it now resides. It was the first official presidential proclamation issued in the United States.
The Proclamation, with is appeal to "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" begs the question: Just what were George Washington's religious convictions? Authors Michael and Jana Novak, in Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country (Basic Books, New York, 2006) attempt to refute the opinion, now commonly held among scholars, that Washington was a Deist, not a conventional Christian.
The father and daughter writing team argue that Washington, during his life was frequently called a Christian by others, in contrast to Jefferson who was attacked for his Deism, and they state that the notion that he was not a Christian only arose after his death, by which time, for many Americans, being a Christian meant having a personal relationship with Jesus the Savior following an emotional conversion experience -- a test for genuine Christian convction that was not usually in Washington's day. They also note that Washington was active as a worshipper and as a vestryman at his local Anglican/Episcopal church, and while he was quiet and private about his religious convictions, that was normal for an upper-middle class Episcopalian of his time.
The Novaks note that Washington, in private and public statements, frequently expressed belief in a Divine Providence that interferred in human affairs and who could be moved by prayer -- not the remote Deity of the Deists. While Washington quite frankly acknowledged that religion was necessary to keep the lower orders in order, they hold there is no evidence that he didn't truly believe what he said (again, unlike some Deists who thought conventional religion, although false, was a necessary social control).
While they concede that Washington did use rather generic words for God in his public prayers ("Providence", "Ruler of the Universe") rather than Christian expressions such as "Jesus Christ," but that was because he was seeking a language that would appeal to Americans of different, and sometimes antagonistic, beliefs.
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.