Although commonly called "Presidents Day," the third Monday in February is a federal holiday intended to mark President George Washington’s birthday.

Although commonly called "Presidents Day," the third Monday in February is a federal holiday intended to mark President George Washington’s birthday.


The implementation of the Uniform Monday Holiday Law in 1971 officially recognized that third Monday, along with New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.


Our first president was born Feb. 22, 1732, in Virginia.


According to the National Archives, Americans celebrated Washington’s birthday long before 1879, when Congress decided it should be a national holiday.


The centennial of his birth prompted Congress to establish a Joint Committee to arrange events for the occasion. Celebrations across the country included parades, orations, speeches and festivals. At that time in 1832, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall referred to Washington as "the man whom language cannot exalt," in a letter to Henry Clay and Philemon Thomas. According to the Mount Vernon website, the centennial "was wrought with expressions of patriotism and love for Washington."


On the 130th anniversary of his birth, in 1862, members of the House and Senate read aloud Washington’s Farewell Address. It was a morale-boosting gesture during the darkest days of the Civil War, according to the Senate website.


The reading eventually became an annual tradition in our nation’s capital. Since 1896, the Senate has selected one of its members to read the 7,641-word statement in legislative session. The only Arkansan to do so was then-Sen. Mark Pryor, in 2008.


Washington wrote the address after he decided not to seek a third term. It was presented to the public in September 1796 in a newspaper column.


In the Farewell Address, Washington warned against "the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party." He wrote that the "alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism." He encouraged a focus on education and morality, and cautioned against sectionalism within the geography of our nation.


"‘Tis substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government," Washington wrote. As we’ve witnessed the national political climate grow more partisan in recent years, studying the words of our first president could benefit us all.