- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

Whatever happened to George Washington's birthday? Today, few can identify precisely which day in mid-February America's first president was born. This is because of the unfortunate fact that our first national hero has had his birthday celebration lumped into a generic holiday President's Day in which his honor and recognition is diluted. This was done by no act of government. Although President Richard Nixon changed the official recognition from Feb. 22 to the third Monday of the month, U.S. law still designates this holiday as Washington's Birthday.

Therefore, a degree of curiosity and perhaps suspicion arises when one ponders the reason for this change in recognition among the public. Without the official sanctioning of a President's Day, one naturally looks to the moral and social climate to account for such a change in perception. In our climate of multiculturalism, there is a certain resistance to the celebration of yet another "dead white male," without whom countless social "injustices" may never have occurred.

Consider the uproar just eight years ago over the 500 year anniversary celebration of Columbus landing in America. Add to this the fact that Washington owned slaves and you have a recipe for liberal outrage at the celebration of another oppressor. But it is most dangerous for the left to write off our greatest heroes in this way.

George Washington's life was among the most admirable of all the Founders. Washington is well-known for his instrumental role in leading a ragtag army to victory against the strongest military power in the world, thereby securing American independence. He was a major figure at the Constitutional Convention, where he gave much-needed legitimacy to the process and worked to secure strong powers for the chief executive. But perhaps most impressive was his rejection of offers to make him a king. Washington respected the sovereignty of the people, and this made him one of the first world leaders to transfer political power democratically, truly an act of greatness.

Even with regard to slavery, Washington was ahead of his time. Although a slave owner at Mount Vernon, he realized during the American Revolution the incompatibility of his own desire for freedom and the enslavement of human beings. While president, he became thoroughly convinced of slavery's immorality, and in 1797 he wrote, "I wish from my soul that the legislature of [Virginia] could see a policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery." Hardly the words of an oppressor, this shows how despite being born into a culture that accepted slavery, Washington was unafraid to speak out against this evil.

Yet we find ourselves with the generic President's Day, alluding to no president in particular and refusing to acknowledge that this one or any one was greater than the rest. But we know this to be false. Just as some cultures are worse than others, and some achievements exceed others, so also are some presidents above and beyond the rest.

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