First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen.
These immortal words about George Washington from the eulogy composed by his dear friend and Continental Army comrade-in-arms, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, should ring as true today as they did when he died in 1799.
First in war: As commander-in-chief of the American Continental Army, he was the glue that effectively bound together the 13 often squabbling colonies and the compelling inspiration that turned a ragtag, ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-equipped citizens’ militia into a force that defeated the world’s most powerful military.
First in peace: When our frail, newly independent country experienced one faction that favored siding with Great Britain and the other with France in the ongoing conflict between the two great European powers, his wise leadership kept the new nation neutral and at peace with all. When, a dozen years after his death, America found itself under attack on our own soil, surely it was to considerable extent because men such as Jefferson and Madison had failed to heed his warning that “if we desire to secure peace … it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”
Peace through strength is a Washingtonian doctrine.
First in the hearts of his countrymen: He was so respected and beloved following the Revolutionary War that his grateful countrymen were keen to entrust him with extraordinary power and bestow upon him any honor he might desire. But he was the man who wouldn’t be king—and he humbly opted to simply return to his farm, content to be just like any other citizen in the free country in which he was its revered father.
Erasing Our Memory of Washington Is a Travesty
It’s a travesty that we are erasing from our national consciousness the memory of “The Father of Our Country” and first and greatest president, when we should, as we did until not too long ago, be celebrating how blessed the United States is to have had in George Washington such an astonishingly great leader who personified character, integrity, honesty, courage, wisdom, humility, and profound love of country.
Ponder what is happening to us—and be embarrassed that we are putting up with it: On Feb. 17, the United States marked a federal holiday during which barely anyone actually knew what was being celebrated. By law—U.S. Code Section 6103—the legal public holiday is Washington’s Birthday.
But—as explained in my opinion column in these pages that day, “Presidents’ Day? No Way”—due to deceit aggressively amplified by the powers of ignorance and indifference, very few realized that we were supposed to be celebrating “The Father of Our Country” and first and greatest president.
Instead, most thought we were celebrating a holiday we don’t have, and never have had, called Presidents’ Day. Since it has an apostrophe after the letter “s,” these millions of Americans thought we were celebrating all presidents, past and present. Other millions of Americans thought we were celebrating President’s Day. And since this version had its apostrophe before the letter “s,” their impression was that we were celebrating one president who just didn’t happen to be identified. Still others thought we were celebrating the office of the president.
Among the confused were an abundance of so-called thought leaders in the media, academia, politics, and public office—including the folks in charge at the U.S. House of Representatives, the folks in charge at the U.S. Senate, and the president of the United States.
Disgraceful Affront to Washington—and Our Intelligence
Such atrocious misrepresentation of this legal public holiday’s name is disgraceful. Besides being an affront to the memory of George Washington, it’s an affront to our intelligence as a people.
The mindless and meaningless way we now observe the February public legal holiday of Washington’s Birthday stands in sharp contrast to the intelligent and serious way we observe the January public legal holiday of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
Just about everyone understands what’s being celebrated on King’s day because it grabs and grips our attention with so much coverage in speeches and articles and on television and radio—his remarkable achievement in extending the full promise of America from not yet enough of us to all of us; his physical and moral courage in pursuit of the ideals he espoused; his rejection of violence and unwavering insistence on non-violence; and his dream that we judge one another not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
Now, imagine that we decide to allow that public holiday to morph into something called, say, Civil Rights Leaders’ Day in the way we’ve let Washington’s Birthday morph into Presidents’ Day. It doesn’t require much imagination to realize that we’d strip it of any true significance and, in time, erase from the national memory a great inspiration that nurtures our better angels. Which is precisely what we’re doing with Washington.
The purpose of a holiday custom and tradition that honors a great leader is to teach our young and remind us adults about things that truly matter and inspire us to emulate the finest qualities and seek them in any who aspire to lead us. It should be more than merely an excuse for putting refrigerators on sale.
This is the reason we must return to the practice of knowing what we are celebrating—and why!
We need a restoration of the finer culture and tradition in which we celebrate the magnificent virtue of George Washington, knowing that honoring his virtue helps make us better Americans and thus helps make America better, for as the book of Proverbs teaches us, “Virtue makes a nation great.”
We should bring back Washington’s Birthday in the best possible way—by once again celebrating on his Feb. 22 birthday. There’s good precedent for reversing this blunder made by the 90th Congress in 1968. While lawmakers had moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October, public pressure eventually forced its return to its historic day—Nov. 11.
When Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22, fell on a Sunday, it was always celebrated on the following day, and if it occurred on a Saturday—as it does this year—observed on the day before.
Washington’s Wisdom Is Still Pertinent
Just as King’s words from our recent history inspire and help guide us today, Washington’s words from our early history endow us with a wide and deep wellspring from which we can draw wisdom that’s still pertinent.
A few examples:
When crackpots at the lunatic fringes of both left and right, including a few currently playing deep left field in Congress, spew vile anti-Semitism, remember how Washington, in his famous Aug. 18, 1790, letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, so wisely repudiated such evil:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens …”
If you worry about America’s moral decline, champion our heeding this advice from Washington’s Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? … It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
If you’re concerned about the indifference to our mounting budget deficits and national debt, remember and share this wise thinking expressed by Washington in his Farewell Address:
“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it … not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate.”
As muddle-minded activists in academia and politics keep conniving to curtail and even suppress free speech, remember Washington’s warning:
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
It was to George Washington that our forefathers turned to lead them out of tyrannical domination to American independence and freedom.
The United States can once again benefit greatly by turning to him to help guide us. We should quit acquiescing in this sham Presidents’ Day foolishness that is erasing from our national consciousness fond memory of “The Father of Our Country.”
We should, the sooner the better, return to observing our Washington’s Birthday holiday when and how we once did when we were celebrating it properly.
Fred J. Eckert is a former member of Congress and twice served as a U.S. Ambassador under President Ronald Reagan who called him “a good friend and valued advisor… one of a kind … a man of great experience and wisdom” and declared, “He has a quality that is all too rare in the political world, he has political courage; I know, for I have been a personal witness to that courage.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.