This Day in the Law
November 26

Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation Designates Official Day of Thanksgiving (1789)

On November 26, 1789, President George Washington issued a historical presidential proclamation where he declared Thursday, November 26th as a national day of public “thanksgiving and prayer.” President Washington signed his “General Thanksgiving” presidential decree in October 1789 and Congress subsequently approved the holiday.

The first likely thanksgiving was celebrated by the Plymouth Plantation colonists in the fall of 1621. Indian chiefs such as Samoset and Squanto joined the colonists in their celebration. However, the first recorded Thanksgiving was held in the summer of 1671 in Charlestown, Massachusetts through a proclamation by the town's council.

Over time, thanksgivings became common practice for colonists throughout different parts of the year – not just in the fall. Colonists would reflect and give thanks for plentiful harvests, liberty, and for other causes.

In 1863, President Lincoln gave another presidential proclamation in which he declared that the last Thursday of November should be celebrated as the day of “Thanksgiving.” Succeeding U. S. presidents followed Lincoln's proclamation, until 1941, when Congress held that the legal holiday of Thanksgiving Day would be observed on November's fourth Thursday.

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated throughout the United States dating back to the Plymouth colonists and President George Washington’s proclamation of November 26, 1789.