February 23, 2000
Don't be misled into thinking your February holiday is
Presidents Day. Your calendar is in error if it says that. The legal
name of this holiday, continuously since 1879, is George Washington's
Enactment of the Monday Holiday law in 1968 shifted the
commemoration of Washington's Birthday from February 22 to the third
Monday in February but did not change the name. That law's sole
purpose was to give Americans a guaranteed three-day weekend.
One of President Nixon's many mistakes was that in 1971 he
designated the third Monday in February as Presidents Day. Neither his
unauthorized proclamation nor any subsequent action by any President or
Congress changed the law, but somehow the name stuck and some calendars
began to use it.
If there ever were a time when the American people need heroes,
that time is now. That's why Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has
introduced a bill (H.R. 1363) to require the federal bureaucracy to
obey the law and use the term George Washington's Birthday, and Senator
John Warner (R-VA) has introduced a companion bill.
This bill would have no effect on state laws, which might make a
different designation, or on privately manufactured calendars. It's up
to the free market to let calendar producers know that we want George
Washington restored to his proper day in the year.
George Washington was history's indispensable man. It's no
exaggeration to say that, without his leadership, we would not have a
United States of America.
It's not just that he led the Revolutionary Army to victory in an
apparently hopeless seven-year war. It's not just that he presided
over the convention that wrote our great and enduring Constitution, or
just that he was uniquely unanimously elected to two terms as our first
Washington's greatness was based on his leadership and character,
so acknowledged by the many other great men of his time. His support
did not come from stirring the emotions of men but from earning and
retaining their enthusiasm, respect and loyalty based on his daily
adherence to honesty, truth, sound judgment, justice, zeal for duty,
and high moral character.
George Washington is the hero we need today because he is an
extraordinary example of a public official whose character was above
reproach and whom adulation did not corrupt. Oh, how we need such a
When sensational journalists of his and succeeding generations
scraped the countryside for revelations, they did not find even one
tale of a tryst behind a haystack or a plundering escapade with the
boys. Item-by-item scrutiny of his cash book and ledger, which were
the disclosure records of his generation, do not reveal even one entry
that hints of a financial or moral impropriety.
No investigative reporter ever discovered any misdeeds of the
kinds that have tarnished the reputations of subsequent Presidents.
Washington did not have any secret life of womanizing, cheating,
building a personal fortune through the control of government
television licenses, talking in profanities, abandoning his supporters,
having close friendships with traitors or men of deviant behavior,
betraying his campaign promises, making secret deals with foreign
countries, accepting campaign donations with the smell of bribery,
conspiring to involve our country in war, or stuffing the ballot box to
win elections by fraud.
Late in life, Washington himself told an old friend his own
explanation of his remarkable success in accomplishing what seemed
impossible in the American Revolution. He said he "always had walked
on a straight line."
As a youth, he acquired a positive love of the right and he
developed an iron will to do what is right. With Washington, what you
saw was what you got; the public man and the private man were one and
Washington earned the loyalty of the men who served with him not
because of personal charisma or oratorical skills but because of his
reliable integrity, incorruptible judgment, and persevering zeal. What
he was, he made himself by will, effort, self-discipline, ambition, and
Washington's total dedication to the duty assigned to him to win
our war of independence gave him personal peace of mind. His will and
self-discipline were his rod and staff, and he could better war against
Britain because he was not at war with himself.
By any standard, George Washington is the only American worthy of
his own national holiday. The reputation of the man whom his
contemporaries called "first in war, first in peace, and first in the
hearts of his countrymen" has stood the test of time.
In the 1990s, when there seem to be so few heroes, George
Washington is truly a man for all seasons. He had the strength he
needed for the long and dangerous journeys of his incredible life
because he always walked that "straight line."
More information about George Washington.