When I was a child, I learned in school that President’s Day was the Monday in between President Lincoln’s birthday and President Washington’s birthday. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12 and George Washington was born on February 22 which usually meant that my sister got a three day weekend for her birthday (which is the 18th).
But according to the Federal Government, the official name of the holiday is George Washington’s Birthday. On January 31, 1879, Congress declared February 22nd a holiday observed by federal employees in the District of Columbia. In 1885, the holiday was expanded to the whole country. For close to one hundred years, the nation celebrated Washington’s Birthday on the actual day of his birth. This changed after the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 which moved federal holidays to Mondays in an effort to provide people with three day weekends. George Washington’s Birthday was declared to be the third Monday in the month of February. Since it fell between Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, some states started calling the day President’s Day.
If you ask most Americans what they know about George Washington they will tell you three things:
- He chopped down a cherry tree
- Washington was the commanding General during the Revolutionary War
- And of course, he was the First President
From what I recall in history class, Washington became President and that was the end of the discussion on him. Of course, there was more to the story. Recently I came across the book The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland. When the new Federal Government needed revenue, Congress decided that they needed to tax domestic products. Whiskey was the first American made product to be taxed. People on the western frontier were outraged and they attacked a tax collector. The new nation was already facing a rebellion. President Washington and Congress had to decide how to react. How much power did this new government have? William Hogeland’s book provides insight to the President that we think we all know and details a forgotten chapter of American history.
Davenport Public Library offers a variety of sources about George Washington. Visit the library today to learn more about our First President.