18 February 2012

Washington's Birthday

Washington's Birthday is a federal holiday honoring George Washington. Originally if was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22. In 1968, the 90th Congress voted to shift three holidays (including Washington's Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington's Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. Not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington's identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday (the third week of Fenruary can only fall between the 15th and the 21st of February). There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday "Presidents' Day", but the idea didn't catch up universally as some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. This federal holiday was the first one to honour and American ciizen.

George Washington was the first president of the United States of America. His first term as president was from 1789 to 1793 and his second term from 1793 to 1797. Before he became president, he played important roles in the military, leading the American Continental Army to victory over the British in 1783. Washington is often seen as the father of the United States and is probably the best known American politician ever.
George Washington could trace his family’s presence in North America to his great-grandfather, John Washington, who migrated from England to Virginia. The family held some distinction in England and was granted land by Henry VIII.  Much of the family’s wealth was lost during the Puritan revolution and in 1657 George’s grandfather, Lawrence Washington, migrated to Virginia.
George’s father, Augustine, who was born in 1694. Augustine Washington was an ambitious man who acquired land and slaves, built mills, and grew tobacco. George Washington’s father died when he was 11. In 1748, when he was 16, George traveled with a surveying party plotting land in Virginia’s western territory. In 1753, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie sends Washington, now aide-de-camp with a rank of major, to Fort LeBoeuf Pennsylvania, to warn the French to remove themselves from land claimed by Britain. The French refused and French and Indian War begining. The French counter attacked and after a full day siege, Washington surrendered. He was later released. George Washington was given the honorary rank of colonel and joined British General Edward Braddock’s army in Virginia in 1755. During the encounter, the French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was mortally wounded. Though he fought bravely, he could do little to turn back the rout and led the broken army back to safety. In August, 1755, Washington was made commander of all Virginia troops.

In 1758, George Washington returned to duty. His experience during the war was generally frustrating and eventually he resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon disillusioned. George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealty widow.  He kept over 100 slaves, but accepted the fact that slavery was the law. He also entered politics and was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1758.
The British ministry, facing a heavy postwar debt, high home taxes, and continued military costs in America, decided in 1764 to obtain revenue from the colonies. When the Virginia legislators, in May 1774, called for a Continental Congress, he was present and signed the resolutions. The Virginia provincial convention promptly elected Washington one of the seven delegates to the first Continental Congress. When the Congress met in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1774, he was in his seat in full uniform, and his participation in its councils marks the beginning of his national career.

He was elected to the second Continental Congress at the March 1775 session of the legislature.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, the political dispute between Great Britain and her North American colonies escalated into an armed conflict. In May, George Washington traveled to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia dressed in a military uniform, indicating that he was prepared for war. On June 15, Washington was appointed Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces against Great Britain.

By November, 1783, the British had evacuated New York City and other cities and the war was essentially over. The Americans had won their independence. The war had been costly to the Washington family but generous land grant from Congress for his military service and sufficiently compensated him.
In 1787, George Washington was again called to the duty of his country. At the Constitution Convention, George Washington was unanimously chosen as president. Washington had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t amendments that were needed, but a new constitution that would give the national government more authority. 

During his first term, George Washington adopted a series of measures proposed by Treasury Secretary Hamilton to reduce the nation’s debt and place its finances on sound footing. In foreign affairs, President George Washington, took a cautious approach, realizing the weak young nation could not succumb to Europe’s political intrigues.
All through his two terms as president, George Washington was dismayed at the growing partisanship within government and the nation. As Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton pushed for a strong national government and an economy built in industry.  Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson desired to keep government small and center power more at the local level, where citizen’s freedom could be better protected. He envisioned an economy based on farming. Those who followed Hamilton’s vision took the name Federalists and people who opposed those ideas and tended to lean toward Jefferson’s view began calling themselves Democratic-Republicans. Washington despised political partisanship, believing that ideological differences should never become institutionalized. He strongly felt that political leaders should be free to debate important issues without being bound by party loyalty. However, Washington could do little to slow the development of political parties. The ideals promoted by Hamilton and Jefferson produced a two-party system that proved remarkably durable. These opposing viewpoints represented a continuation of the debate over the proper role of government, a debate that began with the conception of the Constitution and continues today.

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