Can any student properly identify the holiday that gave us Monday off? Odds are that the public has been too well-accustomed to the commercials and retail bargains to identify the occasion as Presidentâ€™s Day. Calendar-makers and hectic store shoppers will glow in disbelief when they learn the true holiday: Washingtonâ€™s Birthday.
George Washington was born on February 11, 1731 under the old Julian calendar system. Since the adoption of the current Gregorian calendar in 1752, Washington celebrated his birthday on February 22. The anniversary of Washingtonâ€™s Birthday on February 22 was celebrated with great patriotic fervor since Chester Arthur established the federal holiday in 1885. President Arthur would be delighted to know that his presidency is shared alongside Washington and Lincoln with the modern â€śPresidentâ€™s Day.â€ť
Presidentâ€™s Day seems to be the all-inclusive holiday, embracing all forty-two Commanders in Chief into a three-day weekend. Accepting this theme, the History Channel aired â€śThe Presidents,â€ť highlighting such exceptional leaders as William Henry Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes. Some states have viewed the date, fallaciously, as a combination of Lincoln and Washingtonâ€™s birthdays. Our incredible system of federalism has even allowed for Alabamaâ€™s Washington-Jefferson Day, even though Jefferson was born in April!
Nevertheless, confusion abounds due to a change intended to save taxpayer dollars. In 1968, Congress adopted the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving Washingtonâ€™s Birthday to the third Monday in February. The first draft of the bill, renaming the occasion to the generic Presidentâ€™s Day, stalled in the House Judiciary Committee as being too controversial. The new date change has only ensured that Washingtonâ€™s Birthday will always fall between February 15-21 and never on the Generalâ€™s birthday!
The misnomer â€śPresidentâ€™s Dayâ€ť caught on as a marketing phenomena and was adopted as a state holiday by a dozen states, including California. This confusion does not even begin to resolve the differing names listed by the California Office of Personnel Management, which directs state workers, and the state EDD, which caters to the Golden Stateâ€™s unemployed. On campus, the UCR Libraries, Executive Vice Chancellor, Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts, Housing Services, and the Academic Senate, all beneficiaries of federal dollars, publicly list the day off as PresidentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Day. It took noticing that George Washington University, named after the man, listed the upcoming holiday as Presidentâ€™s Day to truly astound me!
Without George Washingtonâ€™s role in the development of our nation, it is clear that we would not have the institution of the presidency to later commemorate in the misnamed Presidentâ€™s Day. General Washington, by law recognized as the highest general in the military, led the ragtag militias to secure independence from the worldâ€™s greatest military power. It was Washingtonâ€™s resolve and strict discipline that enabled the units to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge. We can only imagine the renewed focus that came out of Washington leading his men into prayer in the Pennsylvania forest, spoiled by only the bloody footprints of a weary band of patriots.
Among many achievements, Washington served as the president of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. In his role as the Chair of the Constitutional Convention, Washington presided over the spirit of compromise that hammered together the worldâ€™s longest-serving written constitution. Only two years later, Washington would become the only unanimously-elected President, a feat repeated in 1792. President Washingtonâ€™s integrity restrained him from becoming an American monarch, allowing a peaceful transition of power upon his retirement at the rustic Mount Vernon. He also had the distinguished dignity of liberating his slaves upon his death, a fact buried by the educators that preach the mantra of multiculturalism.
Henry Lee, a personal friend of Washingtonâ€™s, eulogized him as â€śfirst in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none.â€ť In 1860, President James Buchanan forecast, â€ś... when the birthday of Washington shall be forgotten, liberty will have perished from the earth.â€ť
Indeed, it is a pathetic commentary that UC Riverside, among many campuses, chooses to let Washingtonâ€™s Birthday pass without ceremony, while rightfully honoring Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez on their occasions. The College Republicans plan to change this course, and will honor Washington on Wednesday March 1. We invite all students to join us in commemorating the Father of Our Country, Abraham Lincoln, and another February-born President, Ronald Wilson Reagan by watching â€śIn the Face of Evil: Reaganâ€™s War in Word and Deed.â€ť It will be shown in Olmsted 1208 from 7-9 PM.
By DARIN SCHEMMER
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