Tag Archives: George Washington


George Washington’s birthday?🎁February 22, 1732.🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic: R.T.

By Steven R. Maher

This coming Monday (February 20, 2017) Americans will celebrate Presidents’ Day. This writer thinks that the holiday should revert to the celebration of the United States’ two greatest Presidents, George Washington (born February 22, 1732) and Abraham Lincoln (born February 12, 1809).

My reasons for advocating this is that there are some Presidencies I don’t want to celebrate. Most Americans probably feel the same way. For example, if you’re a Republican, do you want to celebrate the Presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Chances are, probably not. If you’re a Democrat, do you want to celebrate the Presidencies of Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Donald Trump? Chances are, probably not.

I think you see the point.

1971 Change in Law

In 1879 Congress passed a statute declaring Washington’s birthday a federal holiday for government offices in Washington DC. This was expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. “As the first federal holiday to honor an American president, the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22,” according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

In 1971 Congress enacted the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act,” the name of which explains why the holiday schedules were changed. Washington’s Birthday is now celebrated the third Monday in February. But “Washington’s Birthday” remains the official name of the federal holiday. Wikipedia noted: “Various theories exist for this, when reviewing the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill debate of 1968 in the Congressional Record, one notes that supporters of the bill were intent on moving federal holidays to Mondays to promote business.” Alexander Hamilton would have undoubtedly approved.

Historians’ Rankings of our Presidents

Presidential rankings have been a small American cottage industry since Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. conducted a poll of historians ranking U.S. Presidents in 1948. Wikipedia has summarized many of these studies, and it seems that three Presidents are perennial favorites for greatest President: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, listed in this paragraph in chronological order. Usually, historians pick Lincoln as the greatest President, Washington as the second greatest and Roosevelt as third. My expectation is that Reagan will likely enter this top tier as our fourth greatest President. Reagan shifted the “correlation of forces” and momentum in the Cold War to favor the U.S., and the Soviet Union collapsed not long after Reagan left office.

The worst President, by consensus, was James Buchanan, who left office as southern states were abandoning the union because of Lincoln’s election. As Wikipedia puts it: “The C-SPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership consists of rankings from a group of presidential historians and ‘professional observers of the presidency’ who ranked presidents in a number of categories initially in 2000 and more recently in 2009. With some minor variation, both surveys found that historians consider Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt the three best presidents by a wide margin and William Henry Harrison (to a lesser extent), Warren G. Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, George W. Bush and James Buchanan the worst.”

Bill Clinton once famously said a statement of his could be interpreted differently depending on how one defined the word “is.” To a large extent, the same can be said of Presidential “greatness.” One conservative Presidential historian ranked Presidents based on “whether their policies promoted prosperity, liberty and non-intervention, as well as modest executive roles for themselves.” As Wikipedia put it, “his final rankings varied significantly from those of most scholars.” If one ranked post World War II Presidents based on prosperity, balanced budgets and keeping the country out of war, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton would be ranked at the top.

The states do not have to blindly follow the federal government in naming holidays. Massachusetts joins eight other states in celebrating “Presidents’ Day.” Five states celebrate Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays: Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Utah and Minnesota. Ohio and Colorado celebrate “Washington-Lincoln Day.”

Massachusetts should join in with the latter two in celebrating Washington and Lincoln – and not non-entities like Chester Arthur and Millard Fillmore on a generic “Presidents Day.”

InCity Times book review

We love this Downtown Worcester presidential classic! This patriotic mural’s been with us for years! pic: R.T.

The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that defined a nation

By Thomas Fleming, (2015, Da Capo Press, 424 Pages)

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

As Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton battle it out for the Presidency, polls show many Americans are disgusted by the level to which politics in the country has sunk. As candidates and their surrogates launch vicious television attacks on each other’s business dealings and private lives, Americans wonder how the country got to the point where anonymous attacks via social media, innuendo and character assassination are commonly practiced tactics.

But to the contrary, such partisan bickering, particularly anonymous attacks, are nothing new. As historian Thomas Fleming shows in his book, “The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that defined a nation,” such methods began in the earliest days of the republic. Opponents of Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton published sexual accusations about each other. If there had been Twitter in those days, there is little doubt that Jefferson and Hamilton would have been clicking out daily attacks on each other with the verve and gusto of a Donald Trump.

Different visions

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had different visions of America’s future. Both men had been shaped by their experiences in the Revolutionary War. Washington found himself enduring terrible winters at Valley Forge and Morristown, sending out letters to Congress pleading for supplies for his famished and ill-clothed army. Congress lacked the legal authority to impose the taxes necessary to fund an army. Washington wanted a strong government, capable of raising an army to defend the country at short notice. Washington sought to launch America on a capitalistic future, using markets and American entrepreneurship to develop the industries needed for the country’s prosperity.

Jefferson, as portrayed by Fleming, was a failure during the American Revolution. He was nearly captured by the British and failed to raise, as Governor of Virginia, sufficient militia forces to fight off British troops, led in some cases by the traitor Benedict Arnold who conducted devastating raids across Virginia. Jefferson saw America’s future as primarily agricultural, without a Navy or modern army, protected by local militias. Jefferson is depicted as someone comfortable with writing legislation and declarations but lacking what Fleming saw as the essential attributes of a great leader.

Washington’s primary bulwark was Hamilton, who served under Washington, fighting at the three Revolutionary War battles Washington indisputably won: Trenton, Princeton and Yorktown.

Jefferson’s main supporter was James Madison, who wrote most of the U.S. Constitution and succeeded Jefferson as President. After the Constitution came into existence, Washington, elected president, appointed Jefferson Secretary of State and Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. Madison was ensconced as a leader of Jefferson’s faction in the House of Representatives.

Constructionists and France

The country soon became embroiled in controversies over the form of the new federal government and the French Revolution. Jefferson hired a man named Philip Freneau to serve as a department of state translator. Freneau used the proceeds from the job to fund a newspaper he called The National Gazette, where he published 18 unsigned articles written by Jefferson attacking Hamilton.

Writes Fleming: “This was, and remains, a unique performance – giving a newsman a government salary to attack the administration in which his patron was supposedly a loyal partner.”

Allies of Hamilton soon struck back; future President John Quincy Adams, the son of then Vice President John Adams, under the pseudonym “Publicola,” published 11 essays attacking Jefferson. Eventually, an affair Hamilton had with a married woman was made public.

Likewise, a Richmond Virginia newspaperman, angered that Jefferson did not give him a job, published stories that Jefferson had fathered several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.

This is an excellent book if, at 424 pages, a trifle long. It is well written, well sourced and is highly recommended for aficionados of American history.