POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

This is Washington’s Birthday and I Can’t Tell a Lie

by David Trumbull

February 12, 2010

Monday is WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY, a federal and state holiday to honor the hero of the Revolutionary War, the Father of His Country, and the first President of the United States. Of the 43 men to serve as chief executive of the Union, only Washington is so singled out for honor with a federal holiday.

That many persons now call the third Monday in February “Presidents Day” is an indicator of our lack of discrimination and devaluing of true accomplishment and fame. To put it in perspective, Catholics believe that each of the 265 popes was the Vicar of Christ on Earth, infallible in matters of faith and morals, and yet fewer than 80 have been added to the calendar of Saints (and no less erudite writer than Dante placed some of the popes in Hell), but common American usage honors equally the great Washington and the least noble and least accomplished of men to hold the office by jumbling them all together on “Presidents Day,” the equivalent of declaring each a “secular saint.”

Slighting of Washington by calling his birthday “Presidents Day” also errs by neglecting the 29th of May, which by state law (Mass. Gen. Laws Chap. 6 Section 15VV) is our PRESIDENTS DAY, in memory of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, former presidents from the Commonwealth

Virginia, home of eight presidents, including Washington, beats us out in total number. But here in the Bay State we have something the Old Dominion lacks. We have in our midst the Washington Library—About 800 books and pamphlets from George Washington’s personal library at Mount Vernon given to the Boston Athenæum by a group of Bostonians in 1848. The books themselves are priceless and only serious scholars need apply for permission to use the collection. However, in 1997 the library published a catalog so the rest of us can see what sort of books the great man was reading.

Books on history and government from Washington’s library include his personal copy of Common Sense, the tract by Thomas Paine that was so influential in promoting the revolutionary spirit. The General, of course, had several books on military science. Remembering that Mount Vernon was a working farm, we are not surprised to find books on agriculture and practice arts such as carpentry and horsemanship. President Washington’s mind ranged beyond those necessary topics, for we also find books on religion, linguistics, and poetry.

I could lump Washington in the same group with some of the lesser men who occupied the White House—but that would be a lie.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]