A Twenty-Second-of-February Dream; Things that the Father of His Country would discover in 1903, 02/22/1903
There is no such thing as Presidents Day. Or President’s Day.
There is such a thing as Washington’s Birthday, and the National Archives Research Rooms in DC (but not the museum side) will be closed on Monday, February 19, in observance of this holiday.
“Before 1971, Washington’s Birthday was one of nine federal holidays celebrated on specific dates, which fell on different days of the week (the exception being Labor Day—the original Monday holiday). Then came the tinkering of the Ninetieth Congress in 1968. Determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays, Congress voted to shift three existing holidays to Mondays and expanded the number further by creating one new Monday holiday.
Washington’s Birthday was uprooted from its fixed February 22 date and transplanted to the third Monday in February, followed by Memorial Day being relocated from the last day in May to the last Monday in May.
When a new federal law was implemented in 1971, only two days separated Abraham Lincoln’s Friday birthday of February 12 from the Washington’s Birthday holiday that fell on February 15—the third Monday in February.
For advertisers, the Monday holiday change was the goose that laid the golden “promotional” egg. Using Labor Day marketing as a guide, three-day weekend sales were expanded to include the new Monday holidays. Once the “Uniform Monday Holiday Law” was implemented, it took just under a decade to build a head of national promotional sales steam.
Local advertisers morphed both “Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday” and “George Washington’s Birthday” into the sales sound bite “President’s Day,” expanding the traditional three-day sales to begin before Lincoln’s birth date and end after Washington’s February 22 birth. In some instances, advertisers promoted the sales campaign through the entire month of February. To the unsuspecting public, the term linking both presidential birthdays seemed to explain the repositioning of the holiday between two high-profile presidential birthdays.”
For the full story, go to http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/gw-birthday-1.html
Image: S. 623, A bill to make the 22nd day of February George Washington’s Birthday, RG 46, Records of the United States Senate. Text via the Center for Legislative Archives.
Inauguration Fact: The shortest Inaugural Address is Washington’s second address at just 133 words. The longest Inaugural Address was 8,495 words, delivered by President Harrison on an extremely cold day. (He died of pneumonia a month later.)
One of the most memorable lines in American history comes from an Inaugural Address. On March 4, 1933, President Roosevelt was sworn in, and told the crowd that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
In honor of the upcoming Inauguration Day, George Washington’s first Inaugural Address is on display at the National Archives until January 31.
Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address, 03/04/1933, ARC 197333.
In honor of the 2013 Inauguration, the first and last page of Washington’s first Inaugural Address are on display at the National Archives until January 31.
Unseasonably cold and snowy weather delayed the first Presidential inauguration, which had been scheduled for the first Wednesday in March 1789. Many members of the First Federal Congress were unable to arrive promptly in New York City, then the seat of government.
On April 6, 1789—over a month late—enough members had reached New York to tally the electoral ballots. George Washington won unanimously with 69 electoral votes. When notified of his victory, he traveled to New York City from his home in Virginia.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the Presidential oath on a second floor balcony of Federal Hall. Below, an enthusiastic crowd assembled in the streets. The President and members of Congress then retired to the Senate Chamber, where Washington delivered his first inaugural address.
Keenly aware of the momentousness of the occasion, Washington accepted the Presidency and spoke of his determination to make the American experiment a success. He humbly noted the power of the nation’s call for him to serve as President and the shared responsibility of the President and Congress to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” and a republican form of government. You can read the transcript of this speech.
The National Archives will be open on Inauguration Day! Come and see this featured document, and then watch the 11:30 a.m. swearing-in ceremony in our theater.
Transcript for President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation from October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor— and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be— That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions— to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Anyone tempted to tell George to Let Teddy Win?
After his victory in the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt promised that although his first term had lasted only three years (beginning after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901), he would adhere to the two-term precedent established by George Washington. Yet by 1912, convinced that only his progressive leadership would save the Republican party, Roosevelt announced his candidacy. Roosevelt contended that he had only promised to refuse a third consecutive term. Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman shows Roosevelt attempting to dodge the anti-third term principle as he crouches before Washington’s ghost. Not until 1951, after Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms in office, did Congress enact the XXII Amendment to the Constitution, officially limiting Presidents to two terms.
Untitled by Clifford K. Berryman, 10/1/1912, U.S. Senate Collection (ARC 306175)
One Down, Three to Go!
In this 1935 photograph of Mt. Rushmore, Washington has been completed and Jefferson is just getting started. Work began on the monument in 1927 and the faces of the four presidents were completed by 1939, with work ending in 1941.
[South Dakota Projects, 1917-1949]: Washington completed, Jefferson in progress, 09/1935
Fulfilling the determination of the Court
Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold was court-martialed in January 1780 and convicted of two minor infractions. Gen. George Washington wrote this letter to Samuel Huntington, President of the Continental Congress, on March 20, 1780. Washington asked Huntington to forward the entire transcript of Arnold’s court-martial. Washington was required to publish both the charges, which he didn’t have, and the sentence against Arnold.
Letter from George Washington to Samuel Huntington Regarding Benedict Arnold, 03/20/1780
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Issued March 16, 1780, this General Order by George Washington’s grants Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th as a holiday to the troops — “a day held in particular regard by the people of that Nation.”
Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman uses his caricature Miss Columbia to draw back the curtain revealing a portrait of George Washington in celebration of the First President’s birthday (February 22nd). Honoring Washington’s birthday became a national custom by 1791, just two years after Washington became president, in recognition of his role in creating a free and independent United States.
Untitled by Clifford Berryman, 2/22/1897, U.S. Senate Collection (ARC 6010235)
In celebration of Washington’s birthday please enjoy this fun video about George Washington and the paparazzi of the 18th century.
George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which moved the calendar ahead 11 days and made January the first month of the year instead of March. The new calendar placed Washington’s birth on February 22, 1732.
Washington, George, the Virginia Colonel (3/4 length), 1772
Happy Presidents Day?
Congress in the Archives will feature a monthly staff post on our blog. February’s post comes from Center archives specialist, Jessie Kratz.
George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which placed Washington’s birth on February 22, 1732. Americans celebrated Washington’s Birthday long before Congress declared it a federal holiday. The centennial of his birth prompted festivities nationally and Congress established a Joint Committee to arrange for the occasion.
Washington’s Birthday, however, did not become a legal holiday until January 31, 1879 when Congress added February 22nd to the list of holidays to be observed by federal employees in the District of Columbia. The act did not stipulate that employees were to be paid for the holiday—in fact, some government employees in the District of Columbia were paid while others were not. In 1885, Congress resolved this discrepancy with legislation that required federal employees to be paid for all federal holidays and made federal holidays applicable to all federal government employees, including those employed outside the Washington DC area.
Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22nd until well into the 20th Century. However, in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.” One of the provisions of this act changed the observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday in February. Ironically, this guaranteed that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, as the third Monday in February cannot fall any later than February 21.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.” Visit our featured documents gallery to learn more about George Washington’s Birthday!
S. 623, 1/29/1878, Records of the U.S. Senate