Meme Watch: Washington’s Birthday, of Patriots and Polemics
Today, my desk calendar says “Presidents’ Day”.
As a former English major and part-time grammar Nazi (there, I got to Godwin’s Law in the second sentence), I spend a lot of time pondering whether the apostrophe is misplaced, or whether it needs an apostrophe at all. No matter what, though, it’s wrong.
Many of my friends on the Right are offended by the very concept of a Presidents’ Day holiday. For example, just a year ago columnist Mark Landsbaum of the Orange County Register (tagline: “defending your rights”) wrote a polemic on the idea of honoring Presidents in the plural. His point, and I’d agree with him, is that not all Presidents are worthy of a Federal holiday. I’m not sure we need a holiday devoted even in small measure to William Henry Harrison, for example.
Our friends over at the New Republic picked up on the Landsbaum column and ran with it as an excuse to slam Presidents Carter, Obama, Grant and Hoover. For example, someone who calls himself “Vergenius Rufus” wrote:
Richard Nixon called it “Presidents Day” to include Lincoln, I think, although Lincoln’s birthday had never been a federal holiday, only a state holiday in some states. After that it somehow turned into a day to honor all of the Presidents including the scoundrels and incompetents among them.
The problem is there’s no truth to any of this remembered “history”. It’s another meme I see popping up from time to time.
The anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1732, was first celebrated at the Federal level on the centenary of his birth, in 1832. That year, Congress adjourned in honor of his birthday. On February 22, 1862, Congress began the tradition of reading Washington’s Farewell Address in the Senate on the anniversary of his birth, a tradition that continues to this day.
Washington’s Birthday became a Federal holiday by act of Congress in 1879.
That situation remained until 1968, when Congress began the process of consolidating Federal holidays to fall on Mondays and form three-day weekends as much as possible. On June 28, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law an act of Congress, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90–363, formerly H.R. 15951). The new law took effect on January 1, 1971. According to the Act, four Federal holidays — Washington’s Birthday, formerly February 22; Memorial Day, formerly May 30; Columbus Day, formerly October 12; and Veterans’ Day, formerly Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, celebrating the armistice ending World War I on November 11, 1918 — were all moved to Mondays. (Veterans’ Day, which had been the fourth Monday in October, was returned to November 11 in 1978.) New Year’s Day on January 1, Independence Day on July 4, Labor Day on the first Monday in September and Christmas Day on December 25 were left on their original, traditional dates. Thanksgiving Day was left at the fourth Thursday in November, thereby making both Black Friday and Cyber Monday possible. Oh, our prescient Congress.
Ironically, since the new February Federal holiday was designated on the third Monday in February, it shifts among the days between February 15 and February 21 but can never fall on Washington’s actual birthday.
During debate on the bill, there was some discussion of incorporating celebrations of Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12, 1809) and Washington’s Birthday into a new February holiday styled “Presidents’ Day” but the official name, according to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, remains “Washington’s Birthday”. Just because calendar makers and furniture stores try to make it otherwise doesn’t change Congress’s intent, nor is it evidence for a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. Sorry, Freepers.
- Five ways to celebrate Presidents Day (pbpulse.com)
- Brain Teaser — Presidents’ Day (librarianbrain.wordpress.com)
- Friday Funny: Presidents Day by the Numbers (webassignwired.webassign.net)
- Wisch: Make Super Bowl Monday A Federal Holiday (chicago.cbslocal.com)
- Raisins in the Pudding (aleksandreia.com)