Officially recognized as “Washington’s Birthday” by the Federal Government – President’s Day is an iconic American Holiday revolved around honoring the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. Traditionally celebrated on February 22, the actual date of Washington’s birthday, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved to the third Monday in February as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers.
While several states still have distinct holidays honoring the birthdays of Presidents such as Washington or Abraham Lincoln (whose birthday is February 12th), Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents from past to present.
The story of Presidents’ Day begins in 1800. Following President George Washington’s death in 1799, his birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. During this time period, President Washington was considered the most important figure in American History, and events like the 1832 Centennial of his birth and the start of the Washington Monument in 1848 caused nationwide celebration.
While Washington’s Birthday was an unofficial observance for most of the 1800s, it was not until the late 1870s that it became a federal holiday. Washington’s Birthday joined four other holidays recognized as federal holidays: Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. President’s day is the first American Holiday that celebrates the life of an individual American. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, signed into law in 1983, would be the second.
In our collection, we have a very desirable autographed letter by George Washington to to the Rev. Lee Massey, who was Washington’s pastor. Both men were two of the twenty-five signers of the Fairfax Resolves in 1774, which rejected the British Parliament’s claim of supreme authority over the American colonies; these were among the most influential and radical resolutions passed in the early days of the Revolution.
“While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him…” – Letter to Benedict Arnold – Thursday, September 14, 1775
George Washington was a victorious general in the American Revolution, the first President of the United States, and a successful planter and entrepreneur. From humble beginnings as a senior officer in the colonial militia during the first stages of the French and Indian War, to courageous general during the War of Independence, to commander in chief of young America, Washington lived an extraordinarily influential life that has everlasting effects on the world today. Washington’s ability to unite the thirteen colonies and establish a new nation grounded on the principles of freedom and democracy is a testimony how his legacy has spread and inspired nations of all corners of the world.
If you are interested in learning more about Washington’s life, below is a first edition set of The Life of George Washington. John Marshall’s description of the life, character, and achievements of the “Father of America” is unparalleled by any other author. As a contemporary and peer of Washington, he has a unique and intimate perspective on the man that no other historian can claim. If you want a first hand description of this history changing figure, than John Marshall’s work is essential. The work “is political history as well as biography… the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States— of the founding of an independent people as well as of its government… There is no other concentrated history of the essentials by such an authority on American institutions” (Robert K. Faulkner).
Another nice, relatively inexpensive set are first editions of Douglas Southall Freeman’s 1958 Pulitzer Prize winning work, George Washington. Freeman’s new interpretation of the life of Washington was a fresh step, making him a living, breathing individual, flawed but heroic. An able commander who defeated the British Empire against incredible odds, Washington proved to be just as adept at wielding political power, and adroitly steered our new loosely called nation through the first stormy years of our unproven federal stewardship and the first two presidential administrations.
If you want to read the words of Washington himself, then consider this set of the The Writings of George Washington Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, which we currently have in our inventory.
To see current George Washington items in our inventory, click here. To read our previous post on the life and work of Abraham Lincoln, click here. Happy President’s Day and please join us this Thursday, February 22,2018 for a discussion with Dr. Alvin Felzenberg on the life of the American Presidents!