On Monday, February 20, we celebrate the birthday of George Washington.[i]
We honor this extraordinary individual who, in 1775, was unanimously selected by the otherwise fractious Continental Congress as the commander in chief of the Continental Army, whose dedication to the Cause and loyalty to his men held the Army together during the most challenging times of the Revolution, who voluntarily returned to private life following the surrender of the British,[ii] who was unanimously chosen to preside over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, who was unanimously elected[iii] in 1789 as the first President of the United States, who served two four-year terms[iv] as President before voluntarily returning once again to private life, who was posthumously promoted in 1976 to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, and whose birthday the U.S. Senate has observed every year since 1896 with the reading of his Farewell Address.[v]
The following passage from the President’s Farewell Address is as timely today as when it was delivered:
“As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.
“One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.
“The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate.
“To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.”
[i] Washington was born on February 22, 1732. His birthday became a federal holiday in 1879. Then, in 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law, which changed the observance of the President’s birthday to the third Monday of February. According to the National Archives, the name of the holiday remains Washington’s Birthday, not President’s Day.
[ii] Thus, he is known as the American Cincinnatus.
[iii] Electoral College.
[iv] The two-term limit was added to the Constitution in 1947 as the 22nd Amendment.
[v] The President delivered his Farewell Address in 1796. Every year, a member of the Senate is selected (alternating parties) to read the speech in legislative session. According to the Senate’s website, “at the conclusion of each reading, the appointed senator inscribes his or her name and brief remarks” in a book maintained by the secretary of the Senate.