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Thomas Jefferson on Fast-Days (Thanksgiving?)

Should Thanksgiving be a national holiday?
[After the promulgation of the Boston Port-bill in 1774] we [the young leaders in the Virginia House of Burgesses] were under the conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into which they had fallen as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of general fasting and prayer would be most likely to call up and alarm their attention. …We returned home, and in our several counties invited the clergy to meet assemblies of the people on the 1st of June, to perform the ceremonies of the day, and to address to them discourses suited to the occasion. The people met generally, with anxiety and alarm in their countenances, and the effect of the day through the whole Colony, was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man, and placing him erect and solidly on his centre.

Autobiography, 1821, 2900

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the power of the General Government. I have, therefore, undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of State or Church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.
Second Inaugural Address, 1805, 2902

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
I had hoped to find something Thanksgiving-related for this post. All I could find were writings concerning a national day of fasting and prayer.
Although the first entry was written in 1821, it refers to an event in Virginia 47 years earlier, two years before independence. Some Virginia leaders, he among them, called for a day of “general fasting and prayer” to arouse the people against British activity in New England. Some have seen it as sincere while others have called it a political stunt. Regardless, the colonial authorities conceived and promoted the idea and recruited clergy to carry it out.
The second excerpt was given as Jefferson began his second term as President. He clearly states his position that any kind of religious activity is left solely to state and church authorities.
Were he called upon as President to declare or support a national day of thanksgiving, as we now celebrate, he would have declined. Inherent in such thanksgiving would have been religious activity or expression. He was intent on keeping the national government out of that arena.

Mr. Jefferson would be most thankful for your invitation to speak with your audience!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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