President’s Day On Ethics Alarms: The Nation’s Incompetent, Disrespectful, Unethical Treatment Of George Washington’s Birthday [Corrected]

How many Americans of our rich national past have a birthday celebrated as a national holiday? One: Martin Luther King. That surely makes the anti-white racists and the “the most important aspect of the United States is its racial divisions” gang—you know, Democrats—happy, but it is also misleading and ridiculous. The most important single figure, black, brown, white or whatever it is currently acceptable to call Asians and Native Americans (I haven’t checked this morning), is George Washington. He was, as George Will likes to say, “the indispensable man”—no George, no U.S. His birthday absolutely should be a national holiday.

Yet it isn’t, due to a confluence of factors. You can’t call today “George Washington’s Birthday,” because the date is February 21, and George was born on the 22nd. In the just-launched 4th season of Amazon’s clever and brilliantly cast comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the heroine, on the road, learns that her parents are having a birthday party for her young son. “The real date wasn’t good for me,” her very weird father (Tony Shaloub) explains. “He’s five! He won’t notice.” “What kind of people change a kid’s birthday?” she protests.

Americans. And worse, we did it to the man to whom we owe the greatest debt of all.

At least we quickly figured out that attention must be paid. Two months after Washington’s death in 1799, American cities and towns began honoring him with a day of remembrance on February 22. On 1879, the District of Columbia became the first jurisdiction to treat the day as a bank holiday, and six years later, under President Grover Cleveland, George Washington’s birthday became a federal holiday. Abe Lincoln’s birthday has never been a federal holiday, which makes sense if you think about it. The former Confederate states are still not crazy about Lincoln, so at its peak, the date February 12 was a holiday in just about half the states. By 1890, it was observed as a paid holiday in ten, and the number was 24, plus D.C., by 1940.

But back to George…

This was one more thing Lyndon Johnson screwed up; he signed an Executive Order in 1968 to suck up to labor unions, The Uniform Monday Holiday Act.* It treated several several federal holidays with disrespect, treating dates of honor as mere inconveniences, and turning them into the tail ends of three-day weekends. How many citizens under the age of 60 know what Memorial Day signifies? Retailers also favored this back-of-the-hand treatment of history, because it was a way to boost sales. Thus has American attention to its roots, triumphs, challenges and heroes rotted away, giving those who oppose our unique values and culture an opportunity that they have exploited brilliantly.

Veterans groups had enough political thwack to get Veterans Day back on to its original November 11 date, but the other snubbed holidays, Columbus Day, Memorial Day and George’s birthday, were just shrugged away. Columbus Day is under attack, and will eventually be renamed “Day the Evil White Man Began Destroying Paradise” or something similar. No one under 60 knows what the original date of Memorial Day signifies. As for Washington’s Birthday, everyone thinks its now called President’s Day, and is supposed to combine George’s birthday and Abe’s. Mostly, they think it’s Mattress Sales day. Nixon’s 1971 order clearly calls the third Monday of February George Washington’s Birthday, but you can’t blame people for being confused, since most years his so-called birthday doesn’t actually fall on his birthday. Although there is nothing in any federal statute or executive order that defines any holiday intended to honor all Presidents as Presidents’ Day. By the early 2000s, about half the 50 states had changed the holiday’s name to Presidents’ Day on their calendars.

Heck, I thought the holiday was called Presidents Day, and spend more time thinking about and researching the Presidents than is good for me. I think it is appropriate to honor the Presidents as a group, yes, all of them, yes, even Nixon, Buchanan, Wilson, Carter, Bush and Biden, because every one of them tried to do the best they could in an impossibly difficult job.

George, however, was special. The only think most children are taught about him, other than his many “firsts,” is that he was a slaveholder, which had no impact on the development of the nation he helped create at all. It has been crafted into a weapon to use against that nation, but that isn’t George’s doing: by the end of his life, he had come to realize how wrong slavery was, and unlike Thomas Jefferson, did something about it, freeing his slaves in his will.

George Washington earned his own national holiday. Give him his birthday back, and move President’s Day to some other random Monday.


*Notice of Correction: the original post attributed the EO to Nixon. I apologize for the mistake.

6 thoughts on “President’s Day On Ethics Alarms: The Nation’s Incompetent, Disrespectful, Unethical Treatment Of George Washington’s Birthday [Corrected]

  1. If Martin Luther King Day were treated like other holidays, we would call it something innocuous, like Civil Rights Day.

    I have grown in admiration of Washington as I have grown older. He does not seem to be among the visionaries that you had in Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc. (the list could be quite long) , his patriotism is unparalleled. And, quite a lot of that is probably more the result of personal character than anything else.


    • I sometimes poke fun at MLK Day (privately, because I am not dumb enough to expose myself to bad consequences just for a joke) by calling it Victims of Adultery Day.

  2. As far as I can tell from a quick look, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which is what made the change, was an act of the 90th Congress which Tricky Dick signed into law in 1968, not an Executive Order, unless such an EO preceded it. It was done partially to give more three-day weekends to Federal employees, but I also think the thought that it was a boon to the travel (since it made it more worthwhile to get away for the weekend) and retail industries (as noted) played into the decision, whether or not those industries engaged in outright lobbying. Veterans’ Day was moved back effective 1978, yes, but it should be noted that the UK moved their equivalent celebration to the nearest Sunday during WWII so as not to interfere with wartime production, and there it has stayed ever since. MLK Day wasn’t affected, since it came much later. Juneteenth is going to get the same treatment as Independence Day Veterans’ Day, and Xmas and NYD, meaning if it falls on a weekend you will get the Friday if it is on Saturday, you will get the Monday if it falls on Sunday.

    Holidays have been this way for so long everyone has gotten used to them, and, like it or not, have come to count on those three-day weekends to get in their skiing trips and shore getaways. Businesses have come to count on the crowds those weekends. However, it also did take away the honoring aspect of a lot of those holidays. That said, I wonder how many people were seriously honoring anyone or anything on those holidays. I remember parents disliked a lot of those holidays before NJ followed the Federal Government’s lead (I think that came a little later, but there’s no handy way to look that up so I’m relying on memory) because it meant they were stuck at home with the kids that day and had to go back to work after dealing with the even more exhausting task of keeping kids quiet/occupied all day in the time before VCRs, the internet, or sophisticated videogames (today’s parents, who are OMG so tired after one day with the kids and resentful that they can’t go to restorative flow, wouldn’t have lasted a year then).

    Actually, strike part of that. I think the fact that all of these holidays became less and less about whatever they were supposed to be about and more about getting away for a three-day weekend or buying some new stuff at a bargain price (for that day only, of course) probably contributed to the eroding of the “honoring” aspect of most of them. A lot more towns used to have parades and/or ceremonies on Memorial Day. Now a lot of them have been discontinued because there’s almost no one to watch them or even in some cases to perform them, because everyone’s either down the shore or at a relative’s for that first pool party of the summer. If there are fireworks for the 4th they are usually the nearest weekend, because people just can’t be bothered to come out on a holiday that’s just one day. The rest? Forget it. The days of kids making tricorn hats of cardboard for Washington and paper boats for Columbus Day are long over. Taking holidays for granted and not being much more than a day off is, I think, partly what’s rendered a lot of them vulnerable to attack at this point. Since people don’t really put much stock in whatever the holiday is supposed to honor, or in most cases, even know that much about it, it’s pretty easy for someone to come in with Howard Zinn-like faux scholarship and convince everyone that this or that holiday is offensive, so it should be renamed or wiped off the calendar altogether. Columbus Day and Washington’s Birthday are just the start. Attacks on Thanksgiving are already beginning and I’m sure the Biden administration will be only too happy to help “refocus” the holiday on mourning what happened to the natives. It wouldn’t surprise me if some more faux history scholars start dredging up the origins of Memorial Day and attacking that. There are already attacks beginning on Independence Day, and now the government has obligingly created a competing holiday in Juneteenth.

    You see, national holidays are one more thing that unite us traditionally and in celebration. The left doesn’t like us united that way, it likes us either divided or united on their terms only, which never involve celebration or the honoring of anything except victimhood. 20 years ago, Budweiser aired (one time only) a Super Bowl commercial that showed the famous Clydesdales drawing the wagon to somewhere in NJ and bowing to the NYC skyline to honor 9/11. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day the air one in which the same horses bow to the as-yet-unconstructed Slavery Memorial in Jamestown or the as-yet-unconstructed Memorial to the Genocide of the Indigenous Peoples (not sure where that would be). When that day comes, you know America really isn’t America anymore.

  3. At 75 birthdays, for me, are irrelevant. What is relevant is the quality of respect one should receive for their lifelong accomplishments. Or in reverse the quantity of critique they receive for their willful failure. In the public school system of the ’50-’60s NY, we celebrated both February 12th and 22nd. On February 12th we read the Emancipation Proclamation and recited the Gettysburg address. On February 22nd we gazed at the picture of Washington crossing the Delaware, retold the mythic legends of his chopping down the cherry tree and tossing that coin across the Potomac. In doing so we gave credit to his leadership, honesty, and strength.

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