THE IRON PEN by Daniel Hite

November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks for the Establishment Clause

How times have changed. The “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is used today to restrict virtually all religious speech in the public arena, especially with regard to any governmental connection. Many argue this position from a historical perspective, but I think they could not be more wrong to do so, unless they consider the framers to be unenlightened and ignorant men without the equivalence of contemporary legal prowess. One merely needs to review the time frame of the passage of the First Amendment and its juxtaposition to President Washington’s first Thanksgiving proclamation. In fact, the title of this article is exactly what Washington and Congress were doing–without contradiction. Here is the timeline:

September 25,1789 – Congress proposes to the states the Bill of Rights

October 3, 1789 – Washington’s National Thanksgiving Proclamation

November 20, 1789 – New Jersey first state to ratify the Bill of Rights

So, what’s the big deal? Contemporary interpretation of the “establishment clause” is commonly referred to as the “separation of church and state.”  If this were true, then our first president certainly would not have offered the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation which would have categorically violated today’s interpretation, but instead, his proclamation enhanced the genuine meaning of the “establishment clause”–to restrict Congress from passing a law establishing a national religion.  Congress, by joint resolution, requested the presidential proclamation. One week following the submission of the First Amendment to the States, Washington published his proclamation. A simple reading settles the issue that establishment of religion does not mean the separation of God and government:

(emphasis mine)

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

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.

Go: Washington

Can it be any plainer than this? Give thanks for the plain truth of the matter.



  1. Yup. 🙂

    Comment by Jason Townsend — November 26, 2010 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  2. T.G.I.F.!, November 26, 2010

    Dear Iron Pen:

    Do it (Psalm 45:1b, KJV): Praise the Lord!

    With sincerest regards always,

    the Williams’

    Comment by the Williams Family — November 26, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

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