House Subcommittee Considers Measure to Move Federal Holiday to February 22
Washington, D.C. (February 29, 2012) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10 th ) today delivered the following testimony at a hearing on his bill (HR 2268) to change the federal holiday celebrating George Washington’s birthday back to its actual date – February 22 – instead of the third Monday in February, which is commonly referred to as President’s Day:
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The hearing was before the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Other witnesses included noted author Richard Brookhiser, Anne D. Neal, president, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Lucia Henderson, vice regent, Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8 th ) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th) are cosponsors of Wolf’s bill. Identical legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Mark Warner (D-VA).)
Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this hearing to discuss the importance of honoring George Washington on February 22. Last Wednesday marked the 280 th anniversary of his birth, yet most Americans celebrated a generic “Presidents Day” holiday two days earlier instead. Hardly any mention is made of the real purpose of the federal holiday, which is to honor Washington’s birth.
Does anyone here today celebrate your birthday on the third Monday of a month? Of course not. So why do we diminish the memory of the greatest American by turning his birthday into nothing more than a three-day weekend? The legislation you are considering today will remedy this glaring problem.
I have long admired President Washington and have found inspiration in public service from studying his life. Washington was a natural leader; whether in the saddle or at the seat of government, he was able to draw out the best in those who served with him.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough, who supports this legislation, recently observed, “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.” 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.
In the summer of 1775, George Washington was chosen by Congress to lead the Continental Army because of his character, his dedication to the cause of liberty and freedom, his sense of duty to his country and his reverence to the Almighty. Facing the many hardships of the Revolution and formation of our government, the Founding Fathers knew that in Washington they had a leader who would never relent and therefore would inspire those he led to follow his example.
In his letter supporting this legislation, author and historian Richard Brookhiser said, “George Washington held unprecedented power and responsibility; military and political, in a brand-new nation, without breaking or bending its laws. He did every job he was asked, and when he was done, he went home.”
His jobs were too numerous to count: soldier, legislator, commander-in-chief, president of the Constitutional Convention and finally chief executive. Each was done with the knowledge that his service was expected of him by his country and his creator.
Washington’s character served him well in the political arena as well. Stuart Leibiger, chair of the History Department at LaSalle University said, “As Chief Executive, Washington helped hold the United States together until it became strong enough to hold itself together.” This was not an easy task. Managing the different personalities in his cabinet took exceptional skill and respect. Yet, while Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on very little, they both agreed in the greatness of Washington.
In 1789, there was only the blueprint of the Constitution to go by; Congress and the federal government had to create its own traditions. Author Myron Magnet, in his letter supporting this legislation said, “There was so much [Washington] had to make up as he went along, out of his own judgment, experience, and instinct, and he had to bring his audience along with him by force of character.” America has had many leaders who followed this example.
Who will emerge in the decades ahead to lead us to more crowning achievements? What corner of our country will produce a leader with the strength of character, dedication to country and the desire to serve that guided George Washington?
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.
In his letter supporting this legislation, David McCullough said, “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.”
We owe it to future generations to honor George Washington on February 22 and do all we can to ensure that his legacy is never forgotten and accessible to all.