In nearly every public poll, George Washington is listed as either the greatest president or polls in the second spot behind Abraham Lincoln. He was, of course, our first president, and many of those at the Constitutional Convention that drafted the document believed and wanted George Washington as the first president. He was described during those deliberations as the “first character.”
After George Washington’s death in 1799, many communities commemorated his birthday as a tribute to our first president. In 1885, Congress passed a law to recognize and celebrate George Washington’s birthday each February 22.
On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act (Pub.L. 90—363) and moved four holidays—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Columbus Day, and Washington’s birthday—to the nearest Monday to create more three-day weekends for American workers. The bill took effect on January 1, 1971, though, Veteran’s Day was officially moved back to its original date on November 11, which reverted in 1978.
The plain brick tomb above was where George and Martha Washington were first laid to rest.
Though it is a national holiday, it is not referred consistently. For instance, in Alabama it is referred to as George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday, in Arizona it’s Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day. In Arkansas it is called both George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Bates Day while it is referred to as Washington’s Birthday in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Michigan. The hodgepodge continues with Maine calling it Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day. Minnesota calls it Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthday while Montana flips that by referring to the holiday as Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday. Ohio combines the two most popular president’s names with Washington—Lincoln Day, as does Utah. California simply calls it “the third Monday in February”, not acknowledging a president at all, while Delaware doesn’t celebrate it at all. Virginia, however, Washington’s home state, simply celebrates it as George Washington Day.
George Washington’s will made a provision for the construction of a new tomb. George and Martha Washington’s remains were moved in 1831 after it was completed.
So, while many people have the misconception that by moving the date of the celebration of Washington’s birthday, that it combined the holiday to include Lincoln’s birthday with Washington’s (since they are both in February) or that the holiday was changed to include all presidents in the holiday. Neither is true. The holiday celebrates George Washington’s birthday and his alone.
Interesting – yes, growing up in Ohio I knew it as President’s Day (as in, “President’s Day Sale!”).
Great to hear from you, Paul. By the way, I think we all grew up thinking Presidents Day was little more than a weekend to sell white sheets and pillow cases at discount prices. 🙂