This coming Monday, February 19, will be a legal holiday. Government offices, banks, and libraries will be closed. But what holiday is it, anyway?
According to the federal government and section 6103(a) of title 5 of the US Code, it will be Washington's Birthday.
Two questions. Why was Washington's birthday made a holiday in the first place, and why do we now call it Presidents' Day?
First question...George Washington was the first President of the United States and is referred to as the "Father of our Country." After his death on December 14, 1799, his birthday, February 22, became a day of remembrance—an unofficial holiday.
In the late 1870s, Arkansas Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey proposed Washington's birthday be made a federal holiday. Other members of Congress agreed and the Act was signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879. However, at the time, it only applied to Washington, DC. In 1885, the law was changed and the holiday applied to the entire United States. Washington's Birthday became the fifth federal bank holiday and the first to celebrate the life of an individual American.
Second question...In the late 1960s, Congress proposed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which was designed to shift several federal holidays from specific dates to pre-determined Mondays. Advantages included more three-day weekends and less employee absenteeism. Those who opposed the Act said moving the holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning.
An additional suggestion came from Illinois Senator Robert McClory. He wanted Washington's Birthday renamed Presidents' Day. Many Congressmen, especially those from Washington's home state of Virginia, were opposed to renaming the holiday and that part of the proposal died in committee.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was signed into law on June 28, 1968, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Its effective date was January 1, 1971. Official holiday dates for Washington's Birthday and other holidays were all changed to appropriate Mondays. The legal holiday for Washington's Birthday was now the third Monday in February. Because the date now fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, and never fell on either, many people jumped to the conclusion the holiday was for all the presidents.
By federal law, Monday is Washington's Birthday.
However, not all state and federal holidays are the same. Many states have officially, though not legally, changed the name of Washington’s Birthday to President's Day. Missouri is one of them. Sorry, George. Happy Birthday anyway.