Today’s guest post is from my good friend Erik Young out of Indianapolis, IN. Erik is the other half of last year’s book competition and I really like his take on honoring one of the leading founders of our country, George Washington. About two years ago I read a very extensive biography on Washington and it completely changed my perspective on the man and the founding of our country.
Holidays are important. They are a reflection of our values and are a time of introspection. For some they are an opportunity for a celebration or ritual such as attending a Veterans Day parade or a Fourth of July barbeque; for others, having time off work to spend time with family in the name of a theme is benefit enough.
It is sad that rather than celebrating George Washington’s Birthday, we have President’s Day. By recognizing a group of political office holders rather than one man, we miss the chance to reflect on the impact of one person on the development of three centuries of democracy.
Washington’s greatness is not solely derived from the fact that he was the first American president, but rather in the actions he took, the principles he stood for, and the precedent that he established, all of which have such a meaningful and lasting impact on the state of our country and the world today.
As a general of the first Continental Army, Washington was driven by the ideals of freedom, democracy and justice. In the American Revolution, he was out-numbered, out-spent, out-organized, and out-equipped by the established, experienced and skilled army of Great Britain. But through his military strategy, personal leadership, and political skill, was able to secure the independence of a new nation from a dominating monarchy and the world’s superpower.
Turning down calls to make him King, Washington proceeded to lead the Constitutional Convention, guiding a small group of thought leaders to create one of the most enduring political roadmaps in world history. Its three branches of government, separation of powers, and amendment infrastructure would establish it as the core architecture of democracy, and allow others to adjust it effectively over hundreds of years.
As first president, Washington both ran the country and established the blueprint of the first operations of the government. He established the first cabinet members, foreign relations, and political elections. He oversaw the implementation of a free press, freedom of religion, and individual rights. After his last term was over, Washington again declined offers to be King, stepped down, and transitioned government control to his democratically chosen successor in a peaceful, orderly and graceful fashion. This model is now replicated countless times in municipal, state, federal, and foreign governments, maximizing the efficiency of government and improving people’s lives in limitless ways. This was perhaps the most important precedent in the history of democracy.
Washington’s birthday was first celebrated as early as the Revolutionary War, and grew to a national holiday at times more revered than the Fourth of July. It was made a legal Federal holiday in 1885. After hundreds of years of using the occasion to reflect on the uniqueness of America, the principles of freedom and democracy it promotes, and the good this has brought to the world, all through the life of one great man, this tradition took a sad turn in the recent past. In 1968 and 1971, a series of Congressional and Presidential actions had the unintended result of replacing Washington’s Birthday and introducing President’s Day into the national lexicon.
While not a legal Federal holiday, President’s Day is becoming the dominantly recognized holiday in the country, combining Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays with a weak hand wave to all the other Presidents who served, resulting in a diluted, impersonal, and uninspiring bank holiday that misses the opportunity to appreciate the virtues of personal and national sacrifice, innovative leadership, enduring principles, and the awe that one man could have such a positive impact on us all.
Imagine replacing Martin Luther King Day with Civil Rights Leader Day. Imagine replacing the Fourth of July with Significant Document Signings Day. Imagine replacing Christmas with Religious Leader’s Day. Bring back Washington’s Birthday on Feb 22.
- It’s George Washington’s Birthday, Not Presidents’ Day (usnews.com)
- Reflections on President’s Day (blogsouthwest.com)
- Another day off? Enough, already (lifeinc.today.com)
- John R. Miller: The First American Idol (online.wsj.com)