Washington’s Birthday or Presidents’ Day? Now One Holiday For All Presidents

Washington’s birthday is now Presidents’ day, a paid holiday for many including federal employees. Here is why George Washington is celebrated.

When is Presidents’ Day?

Monday, February 19, 2024, is a federal holiday. Most federal employees receive the day off from work (with pay). For many readers, that may be the most important fact about the third Monday in February. There are now 11 federal holidays that will be celebrated in 2024. Juneteenth was the latest federal holiday created.

Monday, January 1New Year’s Day
Monday, January 15Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 19 Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 27Memorial Day
Wednesday, June 19Juneteenth National Independence Day
Thursday, July 4Independence Day
Monday, September 2Labor Day
Monday, October 14Columbus Day
Monday, November 11Veterans Day
Thursday, November 28Thanksgiving Day
Wednesday, December 25Christmas Day

Presidents’ Day was designated as a holiday called “Washington’s Birthday” in 5 U.S. Code § 6103. This law specifies holidays for federal employees. While Presidents’ Day is probably the most common name now, our policy is to refer to holidays with the names designated in the law.

Remembering George Washington on President’s Day

Portrait of George Washington
George Washington | Credit: Library of Congress

President George Washington’s birthday was traditionally celebrated on February 22. That date is George Washington’s birthday.

In 1879, Arkansas Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey proposed that Washington’s birthday become a federal holiday. Congress approved, and President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the bill into law. At first, it only applied to Washington, DC. It expanded to include the entire country by 1885.

So Long George Washington: Welcome to Presidents’ Day

Our view of history changes and societies strive to make the past fit an evolving political profile. We no longer celebrate George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. The holidays are combined to create a more perfect world or commemorate more events without creating more paid holidays.

Early American history is often an afterthought in education. Instead, we focus on more recent events without learning about a bunch of old dead white guys whose experiences and views reflected 18th-century values. Despite the political changes and events that may put the republic’s future in doubt, we can still enjoy the fruits of their labors and sacrifices in creating one of the world’s great republics.

Benjamin Franklin’s Warning to Americans

In September 1787, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

…I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and believe further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government.”

Elizabeth Willing Powel, a prominent figure in Franklin’s time and who, in 2024, might be called an 18th-century “influencer,” asked a relevant question of Franklin. Her question and his answer are still cited in describing the American political system.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Creating President’s Day

The holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved to a new date with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) ).

The decision to change the date of the holiday was a topic of debate in Congress.

Some of our elected representatives believed moving the date denigrated the holiday. Others saw it as a way to not only give federal employees more time off but also to make celebrations more meaningful by having more time to celebrate. The bill passed. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it in 1968. It became effective during the Nixon administration in 1971.

The purpose of the bill, according to a signing statement by President Johnson, was:

[T]o ensure a minimum of five regularly recurring 3-day weekends each year for Federal employees. The costs will be offset to an important degree by avoiding disruptions of Government business through Monday observance of holidays.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act combined two holidays: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, and Washington’s Birthday, February 22.

Although the new date, the third Monday of February, was still called Washington’s Birthday, the popular name became Presidents’ Day. Many states had been celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th. Congress had not recognized it as a federal holiday.

As President Johnson noted, the holiday is not just for the benefit of federal employees. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of George Washington and his efforts in creating a new government of former colonies:

The private employer will enjoy similar gains in efficiency. The Monday holiday will stimulate greater industrial and commercial production, sparing business and labor the penalty of midweek shutdowns.

This holiday falls between the birthdays of two prominent U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, born in February 1809, and George Washington, born February 22, 1732.

According to the National Archives, they wanted to change Washington’s birthday to Presidents’ Day to honor Lincoln and Washington. Congress rejected that. The holiday remained Washington’s Birthday. While Congress has never authorized the name change, it is now often thought to honor all U.S. Presidents.

So, perhaps as envisioned by President Johnson, we can now use this time to enjoy the holiday sales events on the third Monday in February. It’s a good time to buy a new car or mattress and to spur the American economy. Most of us have done this at one time or another. Remembering Valley Forge or recalling the accomplishments of President Washington or Lincoln will not usually spur the economy, but buying a new Ford or BMW can make someone happy and will contribute to our economic health.

What Did George Washington Do?

George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He died on December 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon, Virginia. He is often referred to as the “Father of His Country.”

He was the first president of the United States (1789-1797). He commanded the Continental Army during the American Revolution (1775–1783) and presided over the convention for drafting the U.S. Constitution.

Unlike many modern political figures who operate in an era of social media and instant communication, George Washington was more modest and probably more honest. When assuming command of the Continental Army, he wrote:

I am truly sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important trust. However, as the Congress desire I[t], I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service and for the support of the glorious Cause.

During the American Revolution, George Washington led the colonial forces to victory over the British and became a national hero. In 1787, he was elected president of the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution. Two years later, he became America’s first president.

When the American Revolution started, the odds of the 13 American colonies winning a war against the Kingdom of Great Britain seemed unlikely. The population of the colonies in 1760 was about 1.6 million. By 1780, it was about 2.7 million. The British Navy captured and controlled many coastal cities. Most of the population was in the interior, and the large land area prevented the British army from gaining control.

The long distance from England and logistical problems in the interior of the colonies made the British effort more difficult. The assistance of France to America enabled the American colonies to prevail in the war. A French naval victory in the Chesapeake resulted in a British army unit surrendering at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.

The sacrifices and hardships endured during this war effort may not be appreciated by the American public today. Supplies were in short supply, and people were going hungry. The colonial army was very small and lacked training. Some deserted during the cold winter as blankets and shelter were in short supply.

There were also many colonists who remained loyal to Britain. Most considered themselves to be British. Some depended on Great Britain for their jobs. Some people believed the British had the authority to rule the colonies they founded.

After the war, many Loyalists (or Tories) left the country, going to British North America (Canada), to Florida, which had remained loyal to Great Britain, or British possessions in the Caribbean. It is estimated that about 15% of the Loyalists (65,000-70,000) left the American colonies.

Here are the number of casualties in this war:

American casualties:

  • Total Combat Killed and Wounded = 10,683
  • Total Combat and non-combat Deaths = 25,324
  • Total Combat and non-combat Wounded = 8,445

British Casualties

  • Army: 43,633 total dead/ 9,372 killed in battle/ 27,000 died of disease
  • Navy: 1,243 killed in battle/ 18,500 died of disease (1776–1780)/ 42,000 deserted
  • Loyalists: 7,000 total dead/ 1,700 killed in battle/ 5,300 died of disease (estimated)
  • Germans: 7,774 total dead/ 1,800 killed in battle/ 4,888 deserted

Memorable Quotes from George Washington

A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?

If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

It is better to be alone than in bad company.


We are either a United people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all maters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.

Letter to James Madison, November 30, 1785

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it (slavery); but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage (vote and support) will go, shall never be wanting.

Letter to Robert Morris, April 12, 1786

My policy has been, and will continue to be, while I have the honor to remain in the administration of the government, to be upon friendly terms with, but independent of, all the nations of the earth. To share in the broils of none. To fulfil our own engagements. To supply the wants, and be carriers for them all: Being thoroughly convinced that it is our policy and interest to do so.


Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Experience has taught us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession, and when the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

George Washington (often attributed to George Washington, original source is unknown)

Washington’s birthday, or President’s Day, is celebrated on February 22nd, 2024. On the holiday, take a few moments to contemplate the occasion and why we celebrate it.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47