In my school days George Washington’s portrait hung on every classroom wall and his birthday, February 22, was an official holiday. (Sometimes we got the day off. Sometimes we didn’t.)
It seemed unfair that February 12, the birthday of my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, received less attention. After all, homely, humble Abe grew up in the wilderness, educated himself, and went on to preserve the union and abolish slavery. Even though Washington led rebels against fantastic odds, his picture and our tiny library’s information about him made him seem dull compared to Lincoln and even to Andrew Jackson, another of my favorites then.
Over the years I’ve visit many of the presidents’ homes, going to Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello several times and quite willing to go again. All fascinate because of what they reveal about these men and their wives, about 90% of whom played major roles in their husbands’ rise to the presidency. The homes have spurred me to read the many excellent (and far more revealing) adult biographies.
Washington was anything but dull. Jackson, although intriguing, dropped from my favorites’ list, which now headlines Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. Even our most obscure and least successful presidents (including James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding) are worth reading about. Most people don’t know that Herbert Hoover, dissed because of his failure to ward off the Great Depression, accomplished great things around the world before being elected.
I was dismayed when the country went from recognizing Washington’s Birthday on February 22 to ignoring him and his successors on Presidents Day on a Monday in February. Certainly we should honor all the presidents, but this three-day weekend celebrates none.