ON WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY: (from archives.gov/legislative/features/washington)
- George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. Americans celebrated Washington’s Birthday long before Congress declared it a federal holiday. The centennial of his birth prompted festivities nationally and Congress established a Joint Committee to arrange for the occasion.
- At the recommendation of the Committee, chaired by Henry Clay of the Senate and Philemon Thomas of the House, Congress adjourned on February 22, 1832 out of respect for Washington’s memory and in commemoration of his birth.
- Prompted by a memorial from the mayor and other citizens of Philadelphia, the House and Senate commemorated the 130th Anniversary of Washington’s birth by reading aloud his Farewell Address.
- In a special joint session held in the House Chamber, the House and Senate, along with several cabinet officials, Justices of the Supreme Court and high-ranking officers of the Army and Navy, gathered to listen to the Secretary of State read the address aloud. Eventually, the reading of George Washington’s Farewell Address became an annual event for the Senate, a tradition that is still observed to this day.
- Washington’s Birthday, however, did not become a legal holiday until January 31, 1879 when Congress added February 22nd to the list of holidays to be observed by federal employees in the District of Columbia.
- In 1971, Congress switched Washington’s Birthday holiday from his birthdate, Feb. 22, to the third Monday in February and it evolved into being called “Presidents Day.” The day now celebrates both Washington’s birthday and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which is Feb. 12.
- Read Washington’s Farewell Address at:
For more information on George Washington, go to MountVernon.org.
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT?
- Read about Lincoln’s faith in God at at greatamericanhistory.net/lincolnsfaith.htm.
- Read Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation at nps.gov/ncro/anti/emancipation.html.
- Read Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address at:
- Visit the Library of Congress page on Lincoln at:
- Read “The President and War Powers: Lincoln and the Civil War” at:
- For an interesting, well-researched book on Lincoln’s assassin, read:
“Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson
At the age of 15 George Washington copied the “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” These maxims were so fully lived out in George Washington’s life that historians have regarded them as important influences in forming his character. Listed below are several of the maxims followed by George Washington. How many do you follow?
- Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
- If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.
- Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.
- Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play’d Withal.
- Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unask’d also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
- Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
- In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein.
- Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.
- Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.
- Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.
For the complete list of maxims, go to the Colonial Williamsburg website at history.org/Almanack/life/manners/rules2.cfm.
ON GEORGE WASHINGTON’S LETTERS TO HIS WIFE MARTHA:
- Martha Washington destroyed nearly all of George’s letters to her shortly before her death in 1802. Three letters, however, did survive. Two are printed in The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 1, 18 June 1775 and 23 June 1775. These letters were found by Martha Parke Custis Peter, one of Martha Washington’s granddaughters, in a drawer of a small desk that she inherited from Mrs. Washington. The 18 June 1775 letter is now held at Tudor Place, home of Martha Parke Custis Peter and her husband Thomas Peter.
- Read the letters at gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/revolution/martha.html.
ABOUT LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS (NOV. 19, 1863): (read Lincoln’s speech at gettysburg.com/bog/ga.htm)
- When the armies marched away from Gettysburg they left behind a community in shambles and more than 51,000 killed, wounded, and missing. Wounded and dying were crowded into nearly every building. Most of the dead lay in hasty and inadequate graves; some had not been buried at all.
- This situation so distressed Pennsylvania’s Gov. Andrew Curtin that he commissioned a local attorney, David Wills, to purchase land for a proper burial ground for Union dead. Within four months of the battle, reinterment began on 17 acres that became Gettysburg National Cemetery.
- When the cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863, less than half the Union battle dead had been removed from their field graves. The principal speaker was the renowned orator, Edward Everett. As was common for the day, his detailed speech lasted for over two hours.
- Also on the program was a guest who had been invited to present “a few appropriate remarks” only as an afterthought. President Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of these remarks lasted only two minutes that day. The short length was in such contrast to the Everett allocution that the audience, stunned for a moment, barely reacted. Upon returning to his seat Lincoln remarked to a friend: “That speech won’t scour. It is a flat failure.” To the contrary, the Gettysburg Address has become known as one of the supreme masterpieces of eloquence in the English language. On November 20, Everett wrote Lincoln “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”
- The 272 words of the Gettysburg Address were formulated with great thought by Lincoln. He wrote the first draft in Washington shortly before November 18 and revised it at the home of David Wills in Gettysburg the night before the dedication.
- The speech transformed Gettysburg from a scene of carnage into a symbol, giving meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living.
- Within a few years, however, the bodies of more than 3,500 Union soldiers killed in the battle had been reinterred in the cemetery. Following the war, the remains of 3,320 Confederate soldiers were removed from the battlefield to cemeteries in the South.
- Today the cemetery is the final resting place for over 6,000 honorably discharged servicemen and their dependents from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
–Read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at gettysburg.com/bog/address.htm.
CHALLENGE: What do you think of the video University of Virginia students made explaining/illustrating the intended meaning of some of
George Washington’s “Rules of Civility”?
Make your own video. For the complete list of rules, go to the Colonial Williamsburg website at history.org/Almanack/life/manners/rules2.cfm.
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