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First in Love, First in Peace, Last in our Nation’s Holidays

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First in Love, First in Peace, Last in our Nation’s HolidaysBy Brian TubbsGeorge Washington was born on February 22, 1732. Yet aside from festivities at Mount Vernon and a host of retail marketing blitzes, Washington’s Birthday is scarcely noticed when calendars turn to February each year. It wasn’t always this way.In the years following George Washington’s precedent-setting retirement to Mount Vernon in 1797 (the second time he voluntarily walked away from power), Americans increasingly celebrated his birthday with appropriate ceremonies and revelry. Then, in 1885, President Chester Arthur confirmed that tradition by signing Washington’sBirthday into law as an official federal holiday. For decades thereafter, Washington’s Birthday was observed with school cancellations, business closures, proclamations, speeches, and even an annual reading in Congress of Washington’s Farewell Address. These traditions have all, for the most part, vanished. The demise of Washington’s holiday began in 1968, when Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act. This act moved the official observance of Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday in February, regardless of where February 22 (his actual birthday, according to the Gregorian calendar) fell during the week. Similar adjustments were made to other federal holidays, including (at the time) Columbus Day and (later) Martin Luther King Day. State governments, school districts, and businesses all followed suit. While convenient for workers and families, the Monday Holidays Act reduced ourcherished national holidays to little more than three-day vacation weekends andcommercial sales bonanzas. Washington’s Birthday became merely a day to pack up the kids and visit Grandma or check out department store sales. Washington’s fate was sealed in the 1970s and 1980s when it became fashionable to refer to the February holiday as “Presidents’ Day.” The result has been that Americans now see the weekend, originally set aside to honor George Washington, as a highly commercialized and ambiguous tribute to all of our nation’s Presidents. Thus, Washington enjoys no higher accolades on “Presidents’ Day” than William Henry Harrison (who served merely 30 days in office) or James Buchanan (who watched helplessly and incompetently as the Union splintered in 1860) or Richard Nixon (forced from office in disgrace). That we have allowed this to happen to the Father of our Country is shameful and inexcusable. It was George Washington who organized and led a rag-tag army of volunteers and raw recruits to ultimate victory in the American Revolution. It was Washington who headed off a potential military coup, at a now-forgotten standoff with disgruntled militaryofficers in Newburgh, New Jersey. It was Washington who resigned his commission upon the formal end of the Revolutionary War, confirming that the United States would begin under civilian leadership. It was Washington who presided over our Constitutional Convention, strengthening our federal government and giving our nation a chance to survive and prosper on the world stage. It was Washington who, as our country’s first President, navigated our infant nation through serious domestic and foreign challenges that would’ve doomed a lesser man to failure. And it was Washington who walked away from power once again, by retiring from the presidency after two terms.The fact that our nation no longer universally honors Washington on his rightful holiday is a travesty that needs to be fixed…..and fixed now! In the 108th Congress, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) introduced H.R. 778, the Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act. Its purpose is to restore “Washington’s Birthday” as the exclusive nameof the February holiday and to ask that the federal government also officially recognize Lincoln’s birthday as well, albeit not by a formal holiday. Similar versions of this legislation have been introduced in previous Congresses, and all have languished in committee.This Congress should pass the Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act and pass it immediately. Until it reaches his desk, President George W. Bush should issue an executive order, forbidding any reference to “Presidents’ Day” in federal publications, including calendars. State and local governments should do likewise. Congress should also thoughtfully consider the failure of the Monday Holidays Act. While they will face stiff opposition from federal workers, the reason we have holidays isn’t simply to give workers more time with their families. The main reason is to honor those our society has determined belong in the first-rank of our nation’s line of heroes. After all, Veterans' Day was initially included in the Monday Holidays Act, but later extricated from it, due to valid complaints from veterans that their holiday had been diminished.Surely, George Washington has earned a day of reflection all his own. It is time we put him back in the place of honor he deserves. This is something previous generations of Americans understood. Why can’t we


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