Richard Nisley

Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26, 1789
History - American Released - Nov 16, 2018
Early to bed, early to rise: that was the farmer in George Washington.

Each day, the President rose before dawn, shaved by candlelight, dressed with the help of his valet, and while the house was quiet he sat at his desk and read several newspapers and did correspondence work. After two hours, he stopped for a breakfast of hoe cakes smothered in butter and honey and chased with several cups of tea taken with milk.

After breakfast, he studied state papers, signed documents, met with staff and, as necessary, met with advisors, cabinet members, congressmen, and foreign ministers. In the evenings, as often as he could, he attended the theater. There was one theater in New York City, the John Street Theater, where the President was often seen in the company of dignitaries, cabinet members, Congressmen, family and friends. After the theater, and on most nights around 8 p.m., Washington would eat a light supper and go to bed. Most nights he was in bed by nine o'clock.

George Washington loved the theater. He appreciated its power, not merely to entertain, but to communicate ideas. He enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays most of all, particularly “Julius Caesar.” During the bleak winter at Valley Forge, he staged a play for his soldiers, one with an unmistakable message, entitled "Cato." Cato was a Roman patriot and staunch supporter of the Roman Republic who opposed Caesar's usurpation of power. Rather than capitulate to a tyrant and give up his freedom, he commits suicide. The message: freedom is so precious, without it life is not worth living.

Washington's journal entry for Tuesday, November 24, 1789 reads: "A good deal of Company at the Levee today. Went to the Play in the Evening." What did he see? A comedy, entitled: “The Toy; or A Trip to Hampton Court.” A newspaper reported: "On the appearance of The President, the audience rose, and received him with the warmest acclamations." The play must have been very funny because this was said to have been the only pubic occasion at which George Washington was seen to laugh.


Before adjourning in September, Congress had resolved that the president should proclaim a day of national thanksgiving. Thus, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation assigning November 26 as Thanksgiving Day. This was the first national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated in the United States.

On November 26, Washington wrote in his journal: "Being the day appointed for Thanksgiving I went to St. Paul’s Chapel though it was most inclement and stormy–but few people at the church." In honor of the day, he contributed seven pounds, ten shillings out of his own pocket to purchase "provision & beer" for inmates at the City's debtor prison.

Going forward, Thanksgiving would be celebrated irregularly. For example, the next thanksgiving day was not proclaimed until 1795. Washington’s successor, John Adams, would proclaim but two Thanksgiving Days; Thomas Jefferson none at all. Thanksgiving would not become an annual national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a yearly event.

What Thanksgiving meal was served that day at the Presidential Mansion on 1 Cherry Street in New York City is not known. What is known is this: most days Washington dined at two in the afternoon. The meal consisted of various meat dishes: fish, fowl, ham, beef steak, accompanied with a variety of fruits and vegetables and rounded off with lavish deserts. Washington's dinner usually consisted of a single entree and afterward he drank champagne or Madeira wine while conversing with guests, family and friends. Later, he went for a walk, usually to the Battery and back, or rode on horseback, or took a carriage ride with Mrs. Washington.

There was much to be thankful for that first year of the federal government under the new U.S. Constitution. In completing what was left undone at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the First Congress had created the Federal Appellate Court System, including the Supreme Court; the executive departments of State, Treasury, and War; wrote and approved Ten Amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights; and passed a federal revenue system to pay the government's bills–this was the 1789 Tariff Act, signed into law on July 4. The principle failure of Congress under the Articles of Confederation was its failure to pass the 1783 Tariff Bill. Under the old government, passage required a unanimous vote. Under the new Constitution, that was no longer the case; a two-thirds vote of approval in both houses was all that was required. In the works that Fall was "The Report on Public Credit," requested by Congress, and being drafted by newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to make provision for paying the war debt and thereby restoring the nation's faltering credit. As word spread that the government intended to pay the debt, the price of government securities began to rise, business picked up and the sluggish economy showed signs of recovery. The feeling spread that the new government that Washington accurately described as an "experiment" was going to succeed after all.

No subsequent Congress would be as productive as the First Congress in its first six months. Then, too, no subsequent Congress ever again would feel as compelled to act as the First Congress had, when the very existence of the republic was at stake. Incredibly George Washington's mere presence made it all possible, such was the faith the nation had in his leadership as the first president of the United States.

Henceforth known as "The Father of his Country" George Washington was a man of unimpeachable honesty, deepest dignity, and unquestioned integrity.

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