By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
On Monday America will again observe Presidents' Day, the holiday established to honor all the former chief executives of the United States.
It wasn't always so. In 1968, under the provisions of the so-called "Long Weekend Act," the United States Congress changed the calendar in order to move George Washington's birthday to the most convenient Monday. The three-day weekend the act created, while helpful as a stimulus for shopping, does little to honor the memory of the nation's first, and perhaps greatest, president.
President Richard M. Nixon, who probably suspected even then that it was unlikely his birthday would ever become a national holiday, seized the opportunity Congress had provided and, in his first Washington's birthday proclamation as president, called for a remembrance of all the former presidents--not just Washington. Thus "the father of our country" was eclipsed on the calendar and began his slow descent from the pantheon of immortals that have guided this nation for more than 200 years.
The combined Presidents' Day holiday is a ridiculous notion, born of the need to tinker with the calendar without incurring any additional expense to the government in the form of additional overtime. Washington's birthday has been transformed into something almost unrecognizable while Lincoln's birthday, which is also worthy of observance, has for all practical purposes ceased to exist.
By law, the holiday retains his name. Otherwise Washington, Virginia planter, commander of the American troops in the War for Independence, first president of the United States, symbol of honor, dignity and honesty is being given short shrift by the nation he helped bring forth out of tyranny. The day must be reclaimed in his honor, and his alone as part of an effort to reaffirm our shared national heritage.
Such an emphasis could lead, as I have written before, to the creation of new curricula on the War for Independence, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that could bring these subjects to life minus the anti-dead white male sentiments that govern the current teaching of so much of U.S. history. Could there be a better time than now to find ways to re-memorialize the sacrifices of the young and old, the rich and poor, the men and women, the black and white, who soldiered together in liberty's name?