President’s Day is an American holiday that is celebrated each year on the third Monday in February. School children typically get the day off from school, and many professionals also get the day off from work.
Established in 1800, President’s Day once went by a different name. Known as Washington’s Birthday, which is still the legal name of the holiday, this day was meant to celebrate the first President of the United States, George Washington, whose birthday was February 22. Congress declared that day a federal holiday more than 200 years ago, and eventually the holiday grew to become a celebration of President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, as well. The holiday is now a celebration of the lives and accomplishments of every U.S. president.
Few Americans would be hard pressed to identify George Washington’s visage, which is depicted on some American currency, including the $1 bill. Born in 1732 to Virginia planters, Washington’s interests included western expansion, which he was able to take part as a teenager, helping to survey the Shenandoah lands at the age of 16. Washington was also interested in military arts, and he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, eventually playing a role in what became the French and Indian War.
In 1759, Washington was serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses, an assembly of elected representatives of the English colonies in North America. Growing frustrated with and feeling exploited by British regulations, Washington voiced his resistance to restrictions placed on colonists, who were moving toward what would become the American Revolution.
At the Second Continental Congress, which assembled in 1775, Washington was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, taking command of troops at Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3, 1775.
Under Washington’s command, the Continental Army would ultimately succeed, winning the colonists their independence from British rule.
In 1787, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where the new Constitution was ratified. Within two years Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States.
Though the current two-term limit was not law at the end of Washington’s second term, he chose to retire from the Presidency anyway, leaving office in 1797. He would retire to his Virginia home at Mount Vernon, where he still engaged in various business dealings. Within three years of his retirement, however, Washington would fall ill of a throat infection that ultimately took his life on December 14, 1799.
In addition to providing the inspiration for President’s Day, Washington’s legacy is that of a hero who led an army of colonists to a victory over a dominant empire.
The Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore are two of the more notable monuments honoring the first President of the United States. In addition, the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. is so named in honor of George Washington.
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