The first Congress that convened after the adoption of the Constitution requested of the President that the people of the United States observe a day of thanksgiving and prayer:
That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would 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 Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.
This resolution was opposed by some as an infringement on the authority of the states: “It is a business with which Congress has nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and as such is proscribed to us.”(1) Nevertheless, the resolution was adopted. Washington then issued a proclamation setting aside November 26, 1789, as a national day of thanksgiving, calling everyone to “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.”(2) Washington called for days of prayer and thanksgiving on January 1 and February 19, 1795.
(1) Quoted in Anson Phelps Stokes and Leo Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 87.
(2) Quoted in Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 87.