Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. American teachers tell us that we created the holiday to give thanks for the Pilgrims’ relatively safe completion of their first year in the New World. There were some offerings of thanks in that regard, but official Thanksgiving celebrations made only sporadic appearances in history until Congress declared a national holiday to honor the Civil War dead, wounded, and families in 1863.
But the first federal Thanksgiving Day Proclamation wasn’t about Pilgrims, or a difficult winter, or a civil war. It was about government. In 1789 Congress asked President George Washington to proclaim a day of thanks for the United States Constitution. The Constitution was about sixteen months old when Washington issued his proclamation on October 3, 1789. America celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day as a nation on November 26.