Honoring George Washington
I have long admired President Washington and have found inspiration in public service from studying his life. Unfortunately, I have found that students today have a lack of knowledge about our nation’s beginnings and the man from Virginia who led the colonies to form the union known as the United States of America.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning history author David McCullough recently observed, “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.” The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or Nation’s Report Card, in U.S. history underscores that concern. Students in grades 4, 8, and 12 participated in the assessment. At each grade, students responded to questions designed to measure their knowledge of American history in the contexts of democracy, culture, technological and economic changes, and America's changing world role. The levels - Basic, Proficient and Advanced - measure what students should know and be able to do at each grade assessed. At all grade levels, less than one-quarter of students performed at or above the Proficient level in 2010. Only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders, and 12 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level on the 2010 U.S. history assessment.
I believe Congress has unwittingly contributed to this lack of historical understanding by relegating Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday of February to take advantage of a three-day weekend. We need to change the focus from celebrating sales at the mall to celebrating the significance of President Washington’s birth to the birth of our nation. That is why I have introduced legislation to reestablish a public holiday for George Washington’s Birthday from the third Monday of February to the actual date of Washington’s birth on February 22.
There is a reason the birthday of President George Washington is the only legal federal holiday observed for a president of the United States. He is called the “father of our country” because he is without compare in our nation’s history.
Washington’s Birthday has been celebrated since the final days of the Revolutionary War. French and American troops paraded through Newport, Rhode Island, in 1781 and celebrations were held in Richmond, Virginia, in 1782. Organized by French General Rochambeau and others who knew him personally, these celebrations drew special attention to the bravery, courage, leadership and perseverance of the Revolutionary War hero. President James Buchanan said in 1860, “...when the birthday of Washington shall be forgotten, liberty will have perished from the earth.” In response, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation in 1879 that made Washington’s Birthday a holiday for District federal workers. The holiday was extended to all federal workers in 1885.
My legislation is not without precedent. In 1975, Congress amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation into law returning the annual observance of Veterans Day from the fourth Monday in November to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day as a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
HOUSE GOVERNMENT AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy
Hearing: "Honoring George Washington's Legacy: Does America Need a Reminder?"
American History Magazine Article
- Washington's Birthday Bash Back to Feb. 22? (Winchester Star)
- How President's Day Came to Be (Real Clear Politics)
- Rep. Wolf Pushes President's Day Date Change (Real Clear Politics)
- Give George Washington his holiday back (Washington Examiner)
- Make Washington's Birthday A Federal Holiday Again (U.S. News & World Report)
- Wolf: Observe Washington's Birthday On Feb. 22 (Winchester Star)
- A Birthday Every American Should Remember (American History Magazine)
- Making a Comeback (Mount Vernon Ladies Association Magazine)
Letters of Support
- Our View: Wolf's Right... (Winchester Star)
- Our View: Day to celebrate, in perpetuity (Winchester Star)