THE President of the United States, following the example of every president, we believe, except Jefferson, has, in his assumed role of High Priest of the nation, the American Pontifex Maximus, as it were, has issued his proclamation, directing certain religious observances by all the people for the 29th day of the present month. This proclamation is as follows:—
The American people should gratefully render thanksgiving and praise to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, who has watched over them with kindness and fostering care during the year that has passed. They should also, with humility and faith, supplicate the Father of all Mercies for continued blessings according to their needs, and they should, by deeds of charity, seek the favor of the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Therefore I, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November, instant, as a day of thanksgiving and prayer, to be kept and observed by all the people of the land.
On that day let our ordinary work and business be suspended, and let us meet in our accustomed places of worship and give thanks to Almighty God for our preservation as a nation, for our immunity from disease and pestilence, for the harvests that have rewarded our husbandry, for a renewal of national prosperity, and for every advance in virtue and intelligence that has marked our growth as a people.
And with our thanksgiving let us pray that these blessings may be multiplied unto us, that our national conscience may be quickened to a better recognition of the power and goodness of God, and that in our national life we may clearer see and closer follow the path of righteousness.
And in our places of worship and praise, as well as in the happy reunions of kindred and friends, on that day let us invoke Divine approval by generously remembering the poor and needy. Surely He who has given us comfort and plenty will look upon our relief of the destitute and our ministrations of charity as the work of hearts truly grateful and as proofs of the sincerity of our thanksgiving.
Witness my hand and the seal of the United States, which I have caused to be hereto affixed.
Done at the city of Washington on the first day of November, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and ninety-four, and of the independence of the United States the 119th.
[Seal.] GROVER CLEVELAND.
By the President: W. Q. GRESHAM, Secretary of State.
The terms of this proclamation are mandatory, but of course there being no penalty for non-observance of the prescribed religious services, the people will do as they please on the 19th instant, so far as observing the day sacred to the American stomach is concerned. But we are constrained to agree with Jefferson, who thus stated his reasons for not issuing the customary proclamation:—
I consider the Government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…. But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from. It must be meant, too, that this recommendation is to carry some authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not, indeed, of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription, perhaps in public opinion. And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed? I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the General Government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.
Jefferson, it will be remembered, was one of the framers of the Constitution, and probably knew its meanings as well as any man then living, and much better than any man now living.