WASHINGTON – All men are created equal. All presidents are not, say opponents of the Presidents Day holiday, who want to restore the name Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday in February.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said Wednesday he will re-introduce a bill to force the federal government to use “Washington’s Birthday” instead of “Presidents Day.”
The bill was killed in the last Congress after members of the Illinois delegation objected to the apparent slight to President Lincoln, whose birthday also falls in February. Because of that, Bartlett’s new bill will ask for a presidential proclamation recognizing Lincoln’s birthday and “calling upon the people of the Unites States to observe such anniversary with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
“The use of the term `Presidents Day’ insults the memory and denigrates the contributions of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and we think it’s important to change this,” Bartlett said.
Washington’s birthday has been a holiday since 1885. In 1968, Congress moved most federal holidays to the nearest Monday, and in 1971, then-President Nixon issued a proclamation honoring all presidents. The term “Presidents’ Day” caught on, and it was all downhill from there for Washington’s birthday.
One man said he took up the fight as soon as the 1971 proclamation was issued.
“All presidents are not equal,” said Alvin S. Felzenberg, a presidential scholar at the Heritage Foundation. The day was clearly meant to honor Washington, Felzenberg said, “until someone got the idea that all presidents are equal and all great men were born on a Monday.”
“We’ve had a half-dozen or so presidents that have made us the nation that we are,” Felzenberg said.
“From where will today’s young people draw inspiration with which to meet the crises of tomorrow? Presidents Day? James Buchanan? Franklin Pierce? Or that paragon of civic (and other) virtue, Bill Clinton?” he said in an e-mail on the subject.
Clinton’s spokesman, Jake Siewert, said the newest former president would have no comment on the bill.
The executive director of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which owns and operates the first president’s home, said that by lumping together all the presidents in one day, “they basically removed any meaning from the holiday.” James Rees compared it to giving every baseball player the most valuable player award.
Rees said using Washington’s name for the holiday will encourage people and schools to focus on the first president and his accomplishments.
“We’re very excited that Congressman Bartlett has re-introduced the bill,” he said. “I think there will be even more support this time around.”
The first time around, the bill was killed by co-sponsor Rep. Jay LaHood, R-Ill., with help from fellow Illinois Republican, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, after they realized that by honoring Washington, the memory of Lincoln was at risk.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who is sponsoring the bill this year with Bartlett, said he has already spoken to some of the Illinois delegation about the Washington-Lincoln Recognition Act, but did not know their position on it. LaHood’s office did not return calls Wednesday.
Bartlett said Lincoln is his favorite president, followed by Washington and Reagan, and that he sees the bill “as a move to enhance his (Lincoln’s) image.”
He stressed that the law would not affect the private sector or state government, and added that car dealer can have all the Presidents Day sales they wants.