MOUNT VERNON, Va. – For the National Park Service, for universities — even for the president — Presidents Day is the federal holiday in February commemorating Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays.
For Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, that’s just wrong.
Bartlett said the notion that the third Monday in February honors both presidents is a popular misconception — one that needs to be remedied.
Bartlett stood on the East Lawn of Washington’s Mount Vernon estate Tuesday — the 210th anniversary of Washington’s unanimous election as the country’s first president — and called for the country to recognize the federal holiday for what it really is, an observance of Washington’s birthday only.
He said that, contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor any president has ever changed the name of Washington’s Birthday, or the day’s meaning to include Lincoln or any other presidents.
To ensure George gets his due, Bartlett introduced the George Washington, Bicentennial Act of 1999 — a bill that would not change anything about the federal holiday, except the constant references to it as Presidents Day.
Bartlett’s bill would require that Washington’s Birthday “be referred to by that name and no other” by federal officials and in government publications.
“The legislation is very simple. It will eliminate the terrible misconception that somehow crept in that the George Washington birthday federal holiday was changed to Presidents Day,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement.
Identical legislation will soon be introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
This year marks the bicentennial of Washington’s death on Dec. 14, 1799, and Bartlett hopes that passage of the bills will make this February’s observance of Presidents Day the last.
Every February, retailers run countless ads using the faces of George and Abe to sell everything from cars to furniture to toasters in their Presidents Day sales.
But retailers are not the only ones who have given Lincoln a share of the February holiday: On Feb. 15, the White House released a statement by President Clinton that lauded the “vision and achievements of our nation’s former presidents” and remembered “with special pride two of our greatest leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.”
Even George Washington University in Washington, D.C., gave students a day off in February to celebrate — Presidents Day.
At the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, just south of Charleston, Ill., coordinator Evelyn Rooney said Tuesday that she always thought the holiday was in observance of both Washington and Lincoln’s leadership.
Rooney says that the February holiday is marked at the log cabin by more visitors, phone calls and an abundance of school field trips — all people she suspects are under the same misconception about who the holiday honors.
There are no hard feelings about Bartlett’s bill at the log cabin, however.
“If it’s Washington’s holiday, it should be called that,” Rooney said. “Things coming out of Washington are hard enough to decipher.”