The United States commemorates Presidents Day today as a day to honor all Presidents of the United States. This is a fairly new federal holiday that supposedly replaced Washington’s Birthday, which is February 22. This change does not set well with many people because some of our Presidents have been much greater than others. Why should George Washington share this honor with the likes of Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, and others too numerous to mention?
In his article titled “Why We Should Celebrate Washington’s Birthday, Not Presidents Day,” Arthur Milikh at The Heritage Foundation argues the federal holiday should still be known as Washington’s Birthday because “America’s greatest statesmen did not think that national holidays were merely about family dinners, watching fireworks, or getting a three-day weekend.”
Milikh uses the holidays of Thanksgiving and Independence Day to show why he believes the Founders would never have accepted the change to Presidents Day. He explains that George Washington wrote his Thanksgiving Day proclamation about how the day should be about gratitude for the blessings of God and particularly for those of this great nation. He suggested that Americans should offer up their thanksgiving to God. Milikh contrasts the day of gratitude with a day of rejoicing by explaining that Independence Day is a day to celebrate the “courage and manliness” that went into defeating Great Britain and establishing the United States. His explanation put my feelings about the day into words.
Continuing his article, Milikh writes, “What we today call `Presidents Day’ is in fact Washington’s birthday. Just like a republican people must on occasion be reminded of the need for manly assertiveness and modest gratitude, so too must they be reminded of examples of human greatness.” He states that “presidents” is just “an abstraction” with “no real content, being viewed as merely another day off work.” He continues.
During Washington’s life, he deservedly became one of the most famous men in the world. His remarkable courage and prudence had, despite great odds and at great peril, carried to victory our 13 colonies against the most powerful empire on earth. The weight of this task fell upon his shoulders.
In times of peace, moreover, Washington’s self-possession and equanimity – by contrast to the brilliant but somewhat impulsive advisers surrounding him – meant that the country’s fate could be responsibly entrusted to him. The example of his control over his passions, his judgement, and devotion to the common good made him the new model of republican greatness, which until recently filled the American imagination for generations.
Indeed, so clear were his virtues that both Federalists and Anti-Federalists reached unanimous agreement about Washington’s worthiness to be president, despite their immense disagreements on almost everything else.
George Washington was raised up by God to lead this nation. He was aware of his
great calling and responsibility, and he lived worthy of the Lord’s blessings upon him. He is worthy to be honored by his own special day.
The Patriot Post today was also about Washington’s Birthday vs. President’s Day. The author of the post quoted Matthew Spalding, a Heritage Foundation scholar. Spalding noted that Washington’s Birthday was celebrated as early as 1778 and “was second only to the Fourth of July as a patriotic holiday” by earth in the next century. He also noted that Congress recognized the day as Washington’s Birthday in 1870. He explained the connection between Washington’s Birthday and Presidents Day.
The Monday Holiday Law in 1968 – applied to executive branch departments and agencies by Richard Nixon’s Executive Order 11582 in 1971 – moved the holiday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Section 6103 of Title 5, United States Code, currently designates that legal federal holiday as `Washington’s Birthday.’ Contrary to popular opinion, no action by Congress or order by any President has changed `Washington’s Birthday’ to `Presidents’ Day.’
Furthermore, to call the day “Presidents’ Day” not only diminishes George Washington but elevates presidents like Barack Obama. Whereas Washington sought to keep his oath to “support and defend” the Constitution, Obama undermined it at every turn.
I learned something today as I wrote about this topic. I did not know that the holiday had not been officially changed from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day. The knowledge that Congress has not changed the name of the holiday makes me feel much better. Maybe someday a President will use an executive order to again honor President George Washington.