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Thoughts on Washington’s Birthday

Tomorrow is not Presidents’ Day. Your calendar likely says that it is. Stores may advertise sales for it, and those with the day off may call it as such. At some point in time, it apparently became popular to call this holiday in February by its incorrect name. Perhaps the trend began because two famous presidents have birthdays during the month, and then it morphed into thinking all Presidents should be recognized. However, according to federal and state law, there is no such thing as Presidents’ Day.

Tomorrow’s holiday is Washington’s Birthday. In my opinion, he deserves this holiday. He was the military leader during the American Revolution that won our freedom as a new and independent nation. He also presided over the Constitutional Convention, and of course, was unanimously chosen as our first President. Federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103) designates the day as “Washington’s Birthday,” and it has the same official name as a New York State government holiday.

George Washington, along with many of his peers, our Founding Fathers, sacrificed and risked much in speaking and acting out against Great Britain, a world power at the time. Indeed, if the Revolutionary War had gone the other way, they could have been hung for treason. Unrest in the colonies built up over time, particularly after the French and Indian War in 1763. Britain had incurred much debt from this conflict which was also fought in Europe and referred to as the Seven Years War. King George III looked to the colonies for revenue, not to mention their rich resources.

Prior to the revolution, the controlling actions of the British Parliament and chain of events were not popular with the colonists. Laws were made without representation. Even after the much hated Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the Declaratory Act said that the Parliament could make any laws they deemed necessary. The Townshend Acts suspended New York’s Assembly until they agreed to pay to house (quarter) British troops and salaries for officials in the colonies. It also taxed many goods. Officers could even enter colonist’s homes in search of smuggled goods. Boycotts had some success, but tensions flared between the Redcoats and Sons of Liberty, resulting in the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773, to name just two incidents.

Militias and the Continental Army were formed, with none other than George Washington as its commanding general in 1775. The Declaration of Independence followed a short time later, boldly stating that the colonies were free and independent states and that people have inalienable rights that the government cannot take away.

The war began in earnest with Washington’s inexperienced men going up against the greatest military power known to mankind. There was little money to pay the soldiers who suffered dearly without adequate food and supplies. In Valley Forge in 1778 fighting men had no shoes and marched with bloody feet in the snow. Many died from malnutrition and exposure. Nonetheless, Washington inspired his men through his dedication and courage.

He used the famous words of Thomas Paine. “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Washington, wishing to retire after the war in 1783, once again rose to the occasion when our new and fragile nation needed him. Respected by all, in 1787 he was nominated as the president of the Constitutional Convention. Colonists debated for many months over ratification of the Constitution. Many feared establishment of a tyrannical government, similar to the one against which the war was fought. It was only the promise of the added Bill of Rights that persuaded states such as New York to ratify the Constitution.

George Washington was unanimously elected as our first President and inaugurated in 1789 – not a king or monarch, but a servant of the people. What better time to contemplate our nation’s beginnings than his birthday? He represents all that we treasure in the freedoms that we enjoy and that are protected in our Constitution with separation of powers and individual rights.

Washington warned that people “need to know and value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them.”

In other words, if we expect to enjoy our freedoms, we need to be familiar with our Constitution and exercise our rights. Many quotes from the Founding Fathers echo this. These men had lived through the tyranny of the Old World.

Citizens today have a host of concerns about which they could debate, some of which have become law or standard practice by circumventing legislative authority due to regulatory agencies or special interest groups.

One debatable topic is “Common Core,” the new educational standards created and passed in part through the federal government. An argument could be made that this is a violation of the Tenth Amendment because it infringes on the rights of individual states, encompassing an area (namely education) that is reserved for the states and not under federal jurisdiction. States had to agree to them in order to receive funds such as “Race to the Top,” but in so doing gave up their power to make major decisions, compete academically with educational diversity, and determine what is appropriate for their own student populations. The irony is that many districts received very little money and are left with the burden of costly tests, even if the tests are being temporarily delayed. There is also the issue of collecting massive amounts of data beyond what local districts need, tracking children from kindergarten and beyond.

Another constitutional issue involves new gun control laws that may or may not comply with the Second Amendment. There is the collection of phone and text records that may or may not be unconstititutional under the Fourth Amendment.

The First Amendment guarantees that citizens may speak out about any of these and other issues without fear of retribution.

Another right protected by the First Amendment is the freedom to exercise one’s religion. George Washington, like many other Founding Fathers, expressed religious ideas and beliefs. Was he “saved” through so many perilous battles in his early days in order to be an instrument in bringing forth a nation with unparalleled freedoms?

Accounts of his religious experiences are easily found and in the past appeared more frequently in school textbooks. One compelling account comes from the French and Indian War where over 1000 men were killed or injured. Washington had bullet holes in his hat and clothes, and more than one horse was shot out from under him. Some 15 years later, when at a council meeting, an old Indian chief said he was at that battle and that his best marksmen could not kill Washington.

The chief’s prophecy was, “The Great Spirit is with that man. He will be the Great Chief of a great nation.”

Make it a good week and enjoy Washington’s Birthday.

Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments in this articlemay be directed to lifestyles@observertoday.com