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Port: Stop calling it 'President's Day'

Today we think of "President's Day" as celebrating "all persons who served in the office of president of the United States," as Wikipedia puts it. This means Washington gets lumped in with everyone from Warren G. Harding and Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. The man deserves better than that.

George Washington Statue
An equestrian statue in Boston, Massachusetts, honoring America's first president, George Washington.
Pixabay
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MINOT, N.D. — Today is a federal holiday, which means a lot of government workers are enjoying the last day of a three-day weekend while most of we private sector peasants slog through another Monday.

Yet, today is not "President's Day," though that's the term used on calendars and in car dealership marketing.

That holiday doesn't exist.

At least not in federal law.

The name of this holiday is George Washington's Birthday, and we'd do well to remember it. But thanks to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, made law to create a series of three-day weekends, it never falls on his actual birthday as it did when it was celebrated from 1879 until the aforementioned act of Congress.

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Today we think of "President's Day" as celebrating "all persons who served in the office of president of the United States," as Wikipedia puts it .

This means Washington gets lumped in with everyone from Warren G. Harding and Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. The man deserves better than that, but it gets worse. An obnoxiously narrow-minded view of American history has taken root in our society, perhaps best exemplified by the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones and 1619 Project which was published by The New York Times Magazine which won a Pulitzer Prize despite its many sins against nuanced understanding and historical accuracy .

It's become unfashionable to revere someone such as Washington. So much so that there has been a push to strip his name from public edifices like schools .

This means that Washington's annual commemoration is not only diminished by a lumping-in with lesser leaders but his legacy is distorted by people who would only have us remember that he was a slaveholder and not also a military leader who had no issues commanding a racially integrated revolutionary army.

Alexander Hamilton, Washington's trusted aid, was given the command of battalions that included a regiment of free black men who played a consequential role in the Battle of Yorktown .

But perhaps Washington's most enduring legacy was his restraint. After being unanimously elected our nascent republic's first president twice, he opted, in 1796, not to seek a third, setting an unofficial precedent followed by nearly every successive president. Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt all sought a third term unsuccessfully.

When Franklin Roosevelt finally broke through and won a third, and then fourth, term in office the American public responded by ratifying the 22nd Amendment, officially limiting the presidency to Washington's precedent of just two terms.

Washington could very well have been president for life, setting an example his successors would have followed to our great detriment.

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Instead, he chose what was best for his country, which was just two terms in office.

Nor is this the only example of Washington's restraint shaping the early history of our nation. After the revolution, a group of military officers founded the Society of Cincinnati, which still exists today as a benign entity, but at the time was seen as an attempt to create a sort of American aristocracy.

The group limited membership only to line officers in the American Army and Navy, and allowed for that membership to be inherited through primogeniture. There was a deep-seated fear among many of the American revolutionaries that this group would wield undue influence.

"I only wonder that, when the united Wisdom of our Nation had, in the Articles of Confederation, manifested their Dislike of establishing Ranks of Nobility, by Authority either of the Congress or of any particular State, a Number of private persons should think proper to distinguish themselves and their Posterity, from their fellow Citizens, and form an Order of hereditary Knights, in direct Opposition to the solemnly declared Sense of their Country," Benjamin Franklin wrote , joining other critics such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Washington was an early supporter of the society but took heed of this criticism. At one point he considered disbanding the society and ultimately threatened to resign as its president if the portions of the group's charter related to heredity were not removed.

They were, and Americans avoided the very real danger of saddling itself with exactly the sort of nobility they had just fought a war to rid themselves of.

Washington was a great man, all the more so because he was never so enamored with his greatness as others.

He was our nation's greatest leader, despite his flaws, including that he owned slaves, and ought to be honored in his own right. Not as a part of a "president's day" holiday, but as a part of his own day, as the law creating this holiday intended.

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It would be a healthy exercise. We need Washington's lessons more now than ever.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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