Officially, the third Monday of February is still recorded in the Federal calendar of holidays as Washington’s Birthday (observed). Now, follow me here, this is just a bit confusing, even leaving out the change from the Julien Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in the mid-1700s. President George Washington’s birthday is actually 22 February. But due to a Federal law from 1968 and an Executive Order signed in 1971, some of the lesser holidays (lesser than Christmas, New Years, Independence Day and Thanksgiving), including Washington’s birthday, shifted observance to the closest Monday. It was widely believed in the late 1970s and early 1980s that the change in observance of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday of February was made to honor both Washington and President Abraham Lincoln who was born on 12 February. Thus patriotic groups began to hold re-enactments and celebrations of both Presidents on the third Monday of February. Many states recorded this holiday in their calendar as Presidents’ Day and directed their schools to teach the accomplishments of many Presidents in the weeks leading up to the third Monday of February. And of course retailers jumped at another chance for sales. I mean think about it, all they can sell for Valentine’s Day is roses, chocolates and maybe diamonds (if anyone can still afford to buy diamonds, cubic zirconium, if not). But a Presidents’ Day Sale…wow!
Okay, that’s the heritage, now what are we celebrating? Well, Washington and Lincoln obviously, but President Ronald Reagan was also born in February, on the 6th. So I want to commemorate Washington, Lincoln and Reagan.
President George Washington is widely regarded as the father of his country. Not only was he the first President of the United States, but before that he was the first Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, to which the United States Army traces its lineage. He led our forces in the War for Independence.
As our first President, Washington presided over a Federal Government that was tiny by today’s standards, the whole government smaller than the Staff in the Pentagon. And he saw one of his primary responsibilities as holding the Congress and the government inside the boundaries set by the Constitution. There were no Food Stamps or Housing subsidy or winter heating subsidy. Citizens worked to sustain themselves and their families and shared with friends and neighbors through voluntary charity.
Prior to his election as President, Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man, if ever there was one. He had very little formal schooling, and made his early living chopping fire-wood and fence rail, but he studied on his own and with others. Lincoln learned from his failures in business eventually gaining the knowledge and skills to work successfully as a postmaster, shopkeeper and even as a general-store owner. He read law on his own and passed the state bar of Illinois. He won and lost elections.
Finally, as President, Lincoln preserved the Union and ended slavery (no elaboration needed).
Ronald Reagan worked as a film actor and before running for President of the United States, he served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and Governor of California. In the 1960s, he gave speeches for other candidates supporting free enterprise and opposing nationalized medicine and national control of industry.
As President, Reagan held the growth of the Federal Government in check. He believed that, “The greatest social program in the world is a job.” He did not hold with taxing away the fruits of a citizen’s labor just to turn around and give him or her a subsidy, thereby depriving families of the dignity of providing for themselves and their children. Reagan left the Chrysler bailout as simply loan guarantees and did not attempt to transform it into an ownership stake. Reagan famously called out Soviets as an Evil Empire and said of the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan supported Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland and other movements in former Eastern Block countries that led to the downfall of Communism in Europe and the rise of constitutional republics its place.
So, what are we celebrating? No re-invention required, this holiday may need some rediscovery, though. We celebrate the Spirit of America: the dignity of work, the rights of all men and women, determination, perseverance, rugged individualism.
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