Honoring the Legacy of George Washingtonby Former Representative Frank R. Wolf
Posted on 2013-02-13
in the house of representatives
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Mr. WOLF. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to reintroduce legislation that
would reestablish the legal public holiday for Washington's Birthday
from the third Monday of February to the actual date of George
Washington's birth on February 22.
I have long admired President Washington and have found inspiration in public service from studying his life. Unfortunately, I have found that students today have a dearth of knowledge about our nation's beginnings and the man from Virginia who led the colonies to form the union known as the United States of America.
In 2011, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning history author David McCullough observed, ``We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.'' How can we adequately explain the importance of George Washington to our children when we do not even take time to recognize his actual birthday? We must reestablish Washington's Birthday on the 22nd to honor his legacy and in doing so call upon schools across the nation to focus on Washington as the soldier, legislator and president who shepherded our young nation through war, political turmoil, rebellion and expansion as no other single individual was capable of doing.
I believe Congress has unwittingly contributed to this lack of historical understanding by relegating Washington's Birthday to the third Monday of February to take advantage of a three-day weekend. We need to change the focus from celebrating sales at the mall to celebrating the significance of President Washington's birth to the birth of our nation.
There is a reason the birthday of President George Washington is the only legal federal holiday observed for a president of the United States. He is called the ``father of our country'' because he is without compare in our nation's history.
Washington's Birthday has been celebrated since the final days of the Revolutionary War. French and American troops paraded through Newport, Rhode Island, in 1781 and celebrations were held in Richmond, Virginia, in 1782. Organized by French General Rochambeau and others who knew him personally, these celebrations drew special attention to the bravery, courage, leadership and perseverance of the Revolutionary War hero.
From the beginning of our country, the importance of this day has been recognized. As President James Buchanan said in 1860, ``. . . when the birthday of Washington shall be forgotten, liberty will have perished from the earth.'' In response, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation in 1879 that made Washington's Birthday a holiday for District federal workers. The holiday was extended to all federal workers in 1885.
This legislation I reintroduce today is not without precedent. In 1975, Congress amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation into law returning the annual observance of Veterans Day from the fourth Monday in November to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978.
The Uniform Holiday Bill signed in 1968 and effective in 1971 was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day. Originally called Armistice Day to mark the signing of an Armistice on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918 that ended World War [[Page E138]] I, the date of November 11 holds historic and patriotic significance as a day of thanks and remembrance for all veterans. The law change brought widespread public protest and 46 states refused to recognize any day other than November 11 to honor the sacrifice made first by World War I veterans and subsequently by all veterans.
The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day as a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
Likewise, we need to restore the observance of Washington's Birthday to February 22 to preserve the date of his birth for history and to focus attention on his life of service and duty to his country. Even George Washington's home state of Virginia, where he was born and raised, which he served in elected office, where he accepted General Cornwallis' surrender, and where he is buried, celebrates Washington's Birthday in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. I believe all school children in every state should dedicate February 22 each year to learning about our greatest leader, foremost patriot, first president and the only six-star general in the nation's history.
Posterity has shown that the traditions he started, including civilian control of the military and presidential term limits, have distinguished our government from so many failed countries born in revolution from the colonial powers of the 18th century. President Washington exemplifies the best that America and Americans have to offer the world; principled leadership, personal bravery, a sense of duty and public service, patriotism, recognition of our unique role in world history, and a reverence for his Creator. His enduring service deserves to be remembered on his actual birthday.
My legislation is supported by George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. Executive Director Jim Rees said, ``The holiday was far more meaningful when it revolved around George Washington, and schools were able to focus on his sterling example of character and leadership.'' I am extremely pleased that David McCullough supports my legislation as well. His letter, copied below, says ``Celebrating George Washington's Birthday on February 22 is a simple, solid, self-evident statement of respect for one of the greatest of all Americans, for his whole founding generation, and for so much that we owe them.'' The legislation is also supported by other prominent authors and scholars that have published extensive works on Washington's life. Scholar and history professor Gordon Wood stated ``I agree wholeheartedly that Washington's Birthday ought to be separated from the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. He is unique as a president and founder.'' In addition, my legislation is supported by noted Washington historian Ron Chernow, historians Peter Henriques and Richard Brookhiser and history professors from the University of Georgia, LaSalle University, James Madison University and Brandeis University.
Mr. Speaker, it is only right that we hold February 22 as a date of reverence to commemorate the unique person without whom the tide of American history may well have taken a different turn. I urge my colleagues to join in cosponsoring this legislation to forever honor President George Washington's Birthday.
January 19, 2012.
Dear Mr. Wolf: The place of George Washington in the American story, his all-important example of courage and integrity in leadership, can hardly be overstated and must never be taken lightly.
Nor should we celebrate his birthday on any day but February 22, any more than we would wish to move July 4 about to suit some convenience of the moment.
How can it reasonably be argued otherwise? Celebrating George Washington's birthday on February 22 is a simple, solid, self-evident statement of respect for one of the greatest of all Americans, for his whole founding generation, and for so much that we owe them.
Sincerely, David McCullough.