22 Feb 2016

Washington’s Birthday

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The submersion of the national holiday honoring George Washington into a generic and meaningless “Presidents Day” is one of the nearly too-many-to-count bad things we owe to the administration of the late and unlamented Richard Nixon. A number of editorialists this year are arguing that America needs to do the right thing by going back to honoring our first, and possibly greatest, national hero.

John R. Miller:

In 1968, the public-employee unions, seeking a three-day weekend, convinced Congress to move the commemoration of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February. This eventually led to what we now call Presidents Day, which marks the birthday not only of Washington but of Lincoln and all other presidents. By celebrating every birthday, we effectively celebrate none.

Washington’s contemporaries hailed his Revolutionary War victories at Trenton and Yorktown, but they honored him more for risking his fame, fortune and life in taking on military responsibilities for which he wasn’t paid—and then giving up command to return to his farm and family. The young American citizenry esteemed him for bringing together and presiding over the Constitutional Convention, but they honored him more for his steadfastness in holding the colonies together and facing down potential insurrectionists who might have seized the government and made him a military dictator. And while they appreciated him returning to public service as president, they honored him more for leaving an office that many expected him to hold for life.

Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries were unaware of, but they would not have been surprised by, what King George III supposedly said upon hearing that Washington, after winning the Revolutionary War, had refused to be king: “If that is true, he must be the greatest man in the world.” …

Our ancestors expected that America would produce other great leaders. But they celebrated Washington’s birthday because, as the Connecticut Courant observed in 1791, “Many a private man might make a great president; but will there ever be a President who will make so great a man as WASHINGTON?”

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Basil explains that the federal holiday really is still officially designated as Washington’s Birthday.

I know. Some of you thought today was “Presidents’ Day.” Don’t let that bother you. Some of you believe in the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, and that Elvis works at a Burger King in Michigan.

Where I come from, we usually look at such people and say “Bless their heart.” That’s Georgia-speak for “What a dumbass.”

I know, the calendar you got at the kiosk at the mall has “Presidents Day” written in the little block for today. Well, about those people that made that calendar? Bless their heart.

I know, all the TV and radio ads talk about “Presidents Day” sales going on today. Those people that wrote those commercials? Bless their heart.

Today’s a federal holiday. And, it’s “Washington’s Birthday.” Take a look at United States Code 5 U.S.C. 6103 and see what it says. Sure enough, it says “Washington’s Birthday.”

Now, the truth is that George Washington’s birthday isn’t until tomorrow. In fact, the official federal holiday for Washington’s Birthday never falls on his actual birthday. Who else but the government could screw up a birthday so bad? And some folks want them in charge of health care. Bless their heart.

Why do I make a big deal about what today is called? Because I think it’s bad idea to ignore history. George Washington was actually a pretty important guy in American history. Important enough to actually give a holiday for his birthday. …

In 1968, the movement to change many holidays to a nearby Monday began. In 1971, Richard Nixon issued Executive Order 11582, beginning that process. Still, the holiday is officially Washington’s Birthday, and has always been Washington’s Birthday. (Snopes has a write-up about this, too, by the way.)

Some states observed Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12). Some still might. And some people got the idea that the new federal holiday in February was for Washington and Lincoln. Bless their heart.

Somewhere along the way, people began to call today’s holiday “Presidents’ Day.” Whether by design or not, it contributes to the ignorance of Americans. It ignores the importance of George Washington. And it causes many Americans to either forget or never understand the contributions of George Washington in the formation of this great country.

So, I wish you a very pleasant Washington’s Birthday today. Some of you are off work. Others, like me, have a regular work day. Whatever your plans are, take some time to remember George Washington.

And, if you’re celebrating Presidents Day today? Bless your heart.

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