It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to [free government] can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
— Washington's Farewell Address, page 21
President's Day: February 18, 2013.
This day comes approximately 281 years after the birth of a British subject named George Washington, who would become a traitor to the British Crown in 1775 when he assumed command of the newly organized Continental Army. Remarkably, he led that rag-tag army to victory over one of the most well-funded and well-organized military forces in the world, through his leadership skills and his attention to logistics, supplies, and training.
Following the Revolutionary War, General Washington presided over the convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution, and two years later he was unanimously elected by the Electoral College as the first President of the fledgling United States federation. He spent the next eight years working diligently to prevent controversy and political strife from ripping the newly founded nation apart. By the end of his second term as President, he was exhausted, and disheartened by the hard realities of political decision-making.
In his farewell address, published in 1796 — about two months prior to the election of his successor, John Adams — Washington warned his fellow citizens to steer clear of entangling the nation in foreign wars, to be wary of political parties, to maintain a balanced federal budget and avoid government debt, and to embrace religious practice as the basis of public morality.
You can download the complete 35-page address by clicking here.
Washington died three years later, at the age of 67.
Americans immediately began to honor Washington's birthday — February 22 — as a perennial day of remembrance, but it was not until 1879 that the day became a federal holiday within the District of Columbia, and then nationwide in 1885. This was the first time a federal bank holiday would be celebrated in honor of an individual American. (In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. became the second American so honored.)
But when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968, "Washington’s Birthday" was shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February — in a effort to reduce employee absenteeism.
While President Nixon’s executive order plainly referred to the newly-relocated holiday as "Washington’s Birthday", it was not long before Americans began referring to the holiday as "Presidents’ Day". The move away from February 22 led many to believe that the new date was intended to honor both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as it now fell between their two birthdays.
Marketers soon jumped at the opportunity to play up the three-day weekend with sales, and “Presidents’ Day” bargains were advertised at stores around the country. According to research firm "Shop It To Me", Presidents' Day now ranks second — just behind Labor Day — as the best holiday to grab the steepest online apparel sales. Retailers are now launching Presidents' Day online sales the Friday before the actual holiday.
What was once a celebration of a noble American leader has now become a celebration of steep online apparel discounts.
Indeed, we must wonder, as did President Washington in 1796: Who, being a sincere friend of free government, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundations of our fabric?
Happy Presidents' Day, to all our Daily Post readers.