21 February 2011

Washington's Birthday Observed

Most calendars indicate that today is Presidents’ Day.  But it has come to my attention that this is a misnomer which truly misses the mark.  Popular observance of President’s Day have come down to silly sales and a day off for the government.  While we might enjoy the bargains at the malls and the time off Between the Beltways, we really ought to observe the real meaning behind the holiday.

Prior to the standardization of the Uniform Holiday Act in 1971, the shortest month used to have two holidays, both Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12th) and Washington’s Birthday (February 22nd) which many states observed.  Even though an early draft of the Uniform Holiday Act referred to the third Monday in February as Presidents’ Day, the Congress never changed the observance from “Washington’s Birthday”.

Rather than have a holiday celebrating the general office of the Presidency, or being forced to celebrate James K. Polk, it seems appropriate to honor the father of our country, George Washington.

While there are many myths attached to the first President of the United States (e.g. chopping down the cherry tree) as well as an impressive resume as patriot, warrior, military leader and chief executive, there are several  that the American body politic should emulate.

Firstly, there is perseverance.  When we recall the American Revolution, we swell at the victory over the Great Britain, our mother country.  But when not gazing through the rosy glow of hindsight, Washington was leading a ragtag bunch of citizen soldiers against the hyperpower of the day.  Things did not seem so glorious after Washington lost New York City and he was huddling in the snows of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  But through Washington’s leadership, American forces eventually were victorious over the British Empire.

After the victory in Yorktown in 1781, the new nation was starved for leadership.  If America followed European models, people would have yearned for a king.  Due to his prominence and his victory, there is speculation that Washington could have had the crown for America.  But Washington chose to retire to his beloved home of Mount Vernon, Virginia.  This proved Washington’s opposition to dictatorship and his belief in republican government.

When the Articles of Confederacy proved to be an inadequate governing framework for the American Republic, Washington came out of retirement to preside over what became the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.   Despite his desire for retirement, Washington was the natural choice as the first U.S. President.  This shows Washington’s self sacrifice and his dedication to his country.

After serving two four year terms, Washington chose to retire.  Washington’s retirement set a standard for chief executives (until 1940 with F.D.R) to have limited terms of power as President.  More importantly, Washington helped the American Republic to have peaceful transfers of power.  In addition, Washington’s quiet retirement served as a model for future Presidents (until Carter) to remain above the fray on his successors’ public policies.

At his death, Washington was hailed as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen".  I can think of a more fitting tribute to a great man who was instrumental in establishing the great experiment of America.


Dali Docent said...

Most interesting and well said.

El Barroco said...

Thank you for your kind comments.

Although I am devoted to Dali, I am glad that George Washington did not follow Dali's philosophy: "At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since."