This post was written by Lee Ann Potter, the Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.
In the November/December 2016 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article highlighted George Washington’s very first Presidential Proclamation, described many of the more than 7,700 other proclamations issued by the 44 presidents, and invited students to consider the purpose of such proclamations.
The article explained that presidential proclamations have proclaimed commemorative days, weeks, months, and years. They have sought to heighten awareness of numerous causes. They have convened extra sessions of Congress, announced declarations of war, suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, and asked for a day of national mourning.
Featured was the front page of the Gazette of the United States from Wednesday, October 7, 1789, on which the complete text of Washington’s proclamation of October 3rd appeared. In it, he proclaimed Thursday, November 26th of that year a national day of thanksgiving.
The article then encouraged pairs of students to read Washington’s proclamation, discuss its contents, and to conduct original research. We suggested locating the text of other presidential proclamations and considering the purpose of, and the expectations associated with, such executive actions.
Finally, we alerted readers to three newspapers from the earliest days of America’s founding that are now available online. They include: Gazette of the United States, National Gazette and National Intelligencer. All are now available from Chronicling America, the open access database of historic U.S. newspapers that is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.
If you’ve introduced your students to Washington’s proclamation—or other presidential proclamations—what did they conclude about the purpose of, and expectations for, such proclamations?