We recently went through the buffoonery of celebrating Presidents’ Day through grand sales at retail outlets and a delay in the post. Why exactly the culture has decided that we should celebrate every single President - including the luminaries of Chester Arthur and Franklin Pierce - with deep discounts on appliances is beyond me.
Like so many of our other civic holidays, Presidents’ Day is mostly a sham. It should be rooted out and our nation should again proudly celebrate Washington - alone. He is truly the indispensable man in American history.
The holiday was intended to commemorate the singular, historic accomplishments of George Washington. February 22 (not the third Monday of February) is Washington’s true birthday. After he was given to the ages, Americans began to celebrate his birthday without any government prodding. In 1879, February 22 became an official federal holiday.
That Washington deserved adulation was once a self-evident truth. He played a key role in the skirmish that set off the French and Indian War. That war led to enormous debt for the British Empire, which led the British imposing taxation without representation. The British policy was a leading spark to the American Revolution. Washington then commanded the Continental Army against the British. Through a series of brilliant logistical and strategic actions, he wore down the finest military on the globe and won American independence. In a masterstroke, he retired from public service. Returning home to Mt. Vernon, he allowed the seed of freedom to sprout.
Several years later, he was reluctantly cajoled to preside over the Constitutional Convention. His support was crucial to ratification of the Constitution. Not content to let Washington leave the field again, he was the only person unanimously elected (twice) as President. As the first President, he created many of the traditions, and initiated many polices, that dominate even today. He refused the major trappings of royalty, and understood his role as a president of a republic. After his second term, he again voluntarily retired. This act of relinquishing power was unparalleled since the ancients. Awestruck, his nemesis - King George III - declared him the “greatest character of the age.” For once, the King was right.
There was a time when Washington was recognized each year. Today he is all but a caricature hawking carpets. Although there are many reasons for this denigration, it was all but assured by the ruining of his holiday. Beset by commercial and labor interests, President Richard Nixon issued an executive order fixing Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday on February. Soon businesses and the popular culture transformed the day to “Presidents’ Day.” Technically the federal holiday remains Washington’s - but practically it celebrates nothing.
The gutting of the holiday has consequences. Like a religious liturgical calendar - which renews the faith of followers - America needs a civic calendar. This calendar should make us pause to give thanks for our blessings and renew our faith in the country. We still have the calendar (Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Veterans’ Day), but it has become so cheapened by money and three day weekends that it is worse than worthless. End the charade.
In his General Orders on July 2, 1776 to the newly formed Continental Army, Washington explained that “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves . . . .The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army . . . . if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world.” As a republic, his call harkens to us today. The time is now in which the fates of millions rest. Let us triumph.
Washington’s importance is why he holds a prominent position in the new civic celebration of Patriot Week, co-founded by me and my then 10 year old daughter Leah. Patriot Week is renewing our civic calendar by celebrating the First Principles, Founding Fathers and other Patriots, vital documents and speeches, and flags that make America the greatest nation in world history. Anchored by the key dates of September 11 and September 17 (Constitution Day), Patriot Week renews America’s spirit and has captures the imagination and support of citizens across the nation.
Let us answer the challenge of freedom standing up for freedom and by vigorously celebrating Washington’s Birthday and Patriot Week.