In the first presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamation, George Washington observed that "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." As a people who have long enjoyed unparalleled material prosperity and the priceless blessings of peace and freedom, we Americans cannot fail to fulfill this great, yet joyous, duty. Thus, we pause each year on Thanksgiving Day to express our gratitude for the goodness and generosity of our Creator and to ask His continued protection and guidance in all our endeavors, both as individuals and as a nation.
The observance of Thanksgiving was a cherished tradition in America long before George Washington called his countrymen "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." Indeed, we trace the tradition of giving thanks back to some of the earliest settlers in this country -- not only the Pilgrims at Plymouth but also early colonists at Jamestown, New Amsterdam and St. Augustine. With hands clasped in prayer and hearts full of gratitude, these men and women gave public thanks to God for having been sustained through times of hardship and peril.
William Bradford's account of the experience of the settlers of Plymouth Colony is not only a moving description of the trials of emigration to a wilderness but also captures their profound faith and contains a timeless exhortation to succeeding generations:
"Being thus passed the vast ocean . . . they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to . . . And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent. . . . Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness? . . . Neither could they, as it were, go to the top of Pisgah, to view from this wilderness a more goodly country to feed their hopes, for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upwards to the heavens) they could have little solace or content. . . . What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and His grace? They cried to the Lord, and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure for ever."
The historic observance of a day of thanksgiving at Plymouth in 1621 was one of many occasions on which our ancestors paused to acknowledge their dependence on the mercy and favor of Divine Providence. Today, on this Thanksgiving Day, likewise observed during a season of celebration and harvest, we have added cause for rejoicing: the seeds of democratic thought sown on these shores continue to take root around the world. In Central and Eastern Europe, in Latin America, and elsewhere, courageous men and women are beginning to reap the blessings of freedom and self-government. Peoples who once suffered under the heavy yoke of totalitarianism have begun to claim the liberty to which all are heirs.
Our gratitude for the rights and opportunities we enjoy as Americans may be measured by how carefully we use and preserve these gifts, as when we cultivate in our children a love of freedom and an understanding of the responsibilities that freedom demands of us. We tend the previous blossom of our liberty when we recall the example of our ancestors and strive to ensure that our own lives are firmly rooted in faith. Like our forebears, we must cherish the values and beliefs that are the foundation of strong, loving families and caring communities and recognize the importance of learning and hard work, because these are the wellspring of progress and prosperity.
The great freedom and prosperity with which we have been blessed is cause for rejoicing -- and it is equally a responsibility. Indeed, Scripture tells us that much will be asked of those to whom much has been given. Our "errand in the wilderness," begun more than 350 years ago, is not yet complete. Abroad, we are working toward a new partnership of nations. At home, we seek lasting solutions to the problems facing our nation and pay for a society "with liberty and justice for all," the alleviation of want, and the restoration of hope to all our people.
This Thanksgiving, as we enjoy the company of family and friends, let us gratefully turn our hearts to God, the loving Source of all Life and Liberty. Let us seek His forgiveness for our shortcomings and transgressions and renew our determination to remain a people worthy of His continued favor and protection. Acknowledging our dependence on the Almighty, obeying His Commandments, and reaching out to help those who do not share fully in this nation's bounty is the most heartfelt and meaningful answer we can give to the timeless appeal of the Psalmist: "O give thanks to the Lord for He is good: for his steadfast love endures forever."
Finally, on this Thanksgiving Day, let us also remember all those Americans abroad who labor to advance the ideals for which this great nation stands. Whether Peace Corps volunteers or military or diplomatic personnel, these selfless individuals often accept great personal risks and sacrifices to serve our country. Let us remember, in particular, those Americans held hostage and members of the armed forces serving in the Persian Gulf region. On this day, let us pray for their well-being and their safe return to the United States. And let us be thankful that such fine men and women are still willing to answer the call of duty to country and to defend the cause of liberty.
Now, therefore, I, George Bush, president of the United States of America, do hereby call upon the American people to observe Thursday, November 22, 1990, as a National Day of Thanksgiving and to gather together in homes and places of worship on that day of thanks to affirm by their prayers and their gratitude the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and ninety, and of the independence of the United States of American the two hundred and fifteenth.