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.