Let’s celebrate Washington’s birthday on his own birthday
Long ago, our Nation celebrated one of the great men of Western Civilization, George Washington. The United States honored him with an official holiday each year on his birthday, February 22nd.
But thanks to a fine example of the dwindling logic in Washington, DC, Congress changed his birthday to any Monday close enough to his birthday. In the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, they did this to provide federal employees a three-day-weekend.
But even though it is known all over the country as “President’s Day”, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/#url=2016 it is officially listed as “Washington’s Birthday”.
So how did everyone start calling it Presidents Day?
When in college, I was pummeled by several history and political science teachers who relentlessly trashed George Washington. Was it a conspiracy of history teachers who thought too much emphasis was placed on the man who created every precedent for political humility?
You see, some states honored President Abraham Lincoln, while other states honored President Thomas Jefferson on his birthday. As you can probably figure out, Northern states celebrated Honest Abe, and Southern states did not.
Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12th. Congress thought that plopping a holiday between the his and Washington’s would pretty much split the difference.
So in its perpetual efforts to solve problems which do not exist, did Congress change Washington’s Birthday to “Presidents Day”…? The common explanation was that the newly-named-holiday would offer Americans a day to ponder the many presidents and their grand contributions to our heritage.
The problem is, nobody has ever heard of Rutherford Hayes, Martin Van Buren, or Franklin Pierce. This effort to make Washington just another one of 44 men simply corroded the national reverence for Washington, and eliminated the celebration of Lincoln and Jefferson in those many states that had up until then done so. Pretty soon schoolchildren may not know Washington’s name either.
Every year during the week after Valentine’s Day you can flip through the local newspaper and see advertisements for “Presidents Day Weekend”. There is always a cartoon-sketch of Washington with a speech balloon telling his Heirs of Liberty to buy cars, refrigerators or carpet. The worst are TV commercials with an actor dressed in a colonial uniform sprawled on a bed calling Americans to join him at the mattress store.
Meanwhile, no American high school graduate has ever learned why Jefferson invaded Morocco, why Wilson belittled the Constitution, why Ford vetoed more bills in record time than any other president, or how Coolidge balanced the budget during a recession.
In fact, despite the effort to make Presidents Day a teachable moment, Americans don’t know anything about any president, except that some owned slaves, a few were assassinated for some obscure reason, and that all Republican presidents were stupid.
The funniest thing about assigning Washington’s Birthday to the 3rd Monday in February is that this year, Washington’s birthday is actually on a Monday, but the Federal government celebrates it on Monday February 15th—a week early.
Ahhh, the irony which once again reflects the nimble OPM and the federal bureaucracy. They can’t even change their own rules just a tiny bit to celebrate Washington’s birthday on his own birthday.
It is an amusing example of how inflexible the federal government is in almost all its endeavors. You can find dozens of such examples in the soon to be published book, Bureaucratic Bombs.
For almost a half century, our culture has belittled George Washington. Despite the Federal Government’s growing habit of ignoring precedents and laws, he continues to stand out as a grand example of leadership and manhood.
As David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains, King George III, the man who wanted Washington hanged as a traitor during the American Revolution, summed up Washington’s stature best:
The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Too bad Americans don’t know how great George Washington truly was, and why he was so loved by his countrymen. And thanks to the insistence upon making him as bland as 40 of our 44 presidents, they never will.
One thought on “Let’s Try Something New”
“The problem is, nobody has ever heard of Rutherford Hayes, Martin Van Buren, or Franklin Pierce.”
Of course, to be forgotten by posterity is just about the best legacy a President can hope for.
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