$8.4 Million George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation Now On View at Keno Auctions Townhouse, 127 East 69th Street

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • November 20, 2014

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George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, dated 1789
Seth Kaller, Inc.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Seth Kaller, one of the world’s leading document experts, in conjunction with Leigh Keno, President of Keno Auctions, will exhibit and offer for sale George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation from now through November 26. The document was offered at Christie's on November 14, 2013, where it was expected to sell for upwards of $12,000,000. Kaller represents the document’s owner, who has decided to offer the manuscript through exhibition and private sale.

Says Seth Kaller: “It is a great pleasure to offer this extraordinary document establishing a uniquely American Celebration.” Leigh Keno stated: “This is truly an incomparable opportunity as the only other Washington-signed copy was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1921” This example, the only one in private hands, is priced at $8.4 million.

Excerpts of the Proclamation, issued on October 3, 1789:

*By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation…

*…both Houses of Congress have their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…

*Now therefore do I 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...That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--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...

In addition to the Thanksgiving Proclamation, other documents for sale include:

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Rare Broadside Printed and Posted in July, 1776. [Printing attributed to Robert Luist Fowle, Exeter, New Hampshire], ca. July 15-19, 1776. #21991.99     $1,200,000

“THE GREATEST OF EARLY AMERICAN MAPS”: THOMAS HOLME. A Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania in America.
Seth Kaller, Inc.

Broadsides such as this fanned the flames of independence. Passed from hand to hand, read aloud at town gatherings, or posted in public places, broadsides (single pages with print only one side) were meant to quickly convey news. Including the present copy, there are fewer than a dozen examples of this Exeter, N.H. printing known. Pin holes in three corners and the torn upper-left corner suggest this example was posted publicly.

In a way, this Declaration broadside is even more “original” than the signed manuscript pictured by most Americans. This is not yet “The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States,” but rather “A Declaration, by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.” On July 4, New York’s delegation abstained from voting for independence. After replacing their delegates, New York joined the other 12 colonies. The Declaration was re-titled before being engrossed and signed on August 2, 1776. Thus, broadsides such as this one preserve the text of the Declaration of Independence as it actually was issued on July 4, 1776.

HUGO ALLARD. Totius Neobelgii Nova et Accuratissima Tabula. [Amsterdam: ca. 1674]. Rare second state in original color. #20911.99   $35,000

This map was originally published before the English occupation of New Netherlands in 1664. The short-lived Dutch re-conquest of 1673 led to the current ‘Restitutio view’ showing a greatly expanded city, indicative of the widespread prosperity during the first English occupation of 1664-1673.

“THE GREATEST OF EARLY AMERICAN MAPS”: THOMAS HOLME. A Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsilvania in America. Begun by Wil: Penn Proprietary and Governour thereof Anno 1681 $375,00. The only known copy in private hands.

WILLIAM PENN. Manuscript Document Signed. Deed to 500 acres in Pennsylvania, with a bonus lot in Philadelphia that is now part of Independence Mall. March 21, 1681/1682.

Historical Background About the Thanksgiving Proclamation

On September 25, 1789, as the momentous first Federal Congress drew to its close in New York, the new national capital, Representative Elias Boudinot introduced a resolution calling on President Washington to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer . . . 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.”

A leading opponent of the resolution, Thomas Tudor Tucker, asked, “Why should the 

President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?” The skeptical
Congressman noted that the people “may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness.” He also argued that it was a religious matter and thus proscribed to the new government. Regardless, the House passed the resolution—one of their last pieces of business before completing the proposed Bill of Rights. The Senate concurred three days later, and a delegation was sent to meet the President. George Washington, who had in fact anticipated the question in a letter to James Madison a month earlier, readily agreed.

On October 3, George Washington signed the document offered here, America’s first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. Washington employed the exact language of the resolution to begin his proclamation, though he went further, giving thanks for “tranquility, union, and plenty” and asking the Almighty to guide the new nation’s leaders and government. He used the same approach a year later when he wrote what is now one of his most celebrated letters: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, [and] requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington echoed his correspondent Moses Seixas’s stance on tolerance and added to it, just as he did in his Thanksgiving Proclamation when asking the Almighty “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.”

George Washington. Manuscript Document Signed as President. Proclaiming “Thursday the 26th day of November” as “a day of thanksgiving and prayer.” New York, N.Y., October 3, 1789. 1 p., 9-5⁄8 x 14-5⁄8. The text of this, and the other known copy (acquired by the Library of Congress in 1921) was penned by William Jackson, a personal secretary to the president and previously the secretary to the Constitutional Convention.

Establishing the National Holiday

The American public enthusiastically accepted Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Newspapers printed it, citizens celebrated across the country, and churches used the occasion to solicit donations for the poor. George Washington personally responded, contributing $25. In 1795, noting “the unexampled prosperity of all classes of our citizens,” Washington issued his only other Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation, calling on Americans to “acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience.”

John Adams and James Madison would also issue Thanksgiving Proclamations, but days of Thanksgiving typically remained state holidays. Abraham Lincoln was the next president to issue national Thanksgiving Proclamations. He began by closing government departments for a day in 1861, and in March 1863, he called for a day of “national humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” He issued another, assigning August 6, 1863, as a day of “National Thanksgiving.” Soon after, Lincoln was moved by a letter from Sarah Josepha Hale, who had lobbied the four prior presidents unsuccessfully to make Thanksgiving a third national holiday in addition to Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday. On October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years after George Washington’s Proclamation, Lincoln established the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving, setting the precedent that remains to this day.

About Seth Kaller

Seth Kaller is a leading expert in acquiring, authenticating, and appraising rare historic documents. For more than 25 years, he has worked with individuals and institutions to build major collections and manage donations and museum loans. As an agent and dealer, the treasures he has acquired for clients include rare printings of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock’s letter announcing Independence, printed and handwritten working drafts of the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s anti-slavery manuscripts, Robert E. Lee’s proposal of surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington’s Farewell Address to the States after the Revolutionary War, Jefferson’s letters on religion and government, and many others.


About Leigh Keno

Having been interested in beautiful and rare Americana for more than forty years, since 1997 Leigh has been an appraiser on the Emmy-nominated PBS series Antiques Roadshow, watched by over 10 million people each week. Leigh lectures extensively across the country about art, antiques and classic cars. In 1985, Leigh served as Vice President at Christie’s-- where he also was a Specialist in American Furniture and Decorative Arts--and in 2010 founded Keno Auctions. In total, he has sold and advised on an astounding variety of paintings, American furniture, folk art and modern art. Leigh is proud to have helped build some of the world’s best private and institutional collections of fine and decorative art. In 2000 he co-authored the book "Hidden Treasures." He is honored to be a Board Member of the Appraisers Association of America. In 2005, Leigh was awarded the National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States. In 2008, Leigh and his brother Leslie accompanied First Lady Laura Bush on a History Channel televised tour, "The White House: Behind Closed Doors." In January, 2014, Keno Auctions sold a “…Letter from the Twelve united States Colonies to…the Inhabitants of Great Britain” for $912,500.00, setting a world record at auction for a Revolutionary War manuscript.


For additional information visit www.sethkaller.com

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