As we have previously mentioned in this space, the holiday known colloquially as "Presidents' Day" (or President's Day, or Presidents Day, depending on the source) is, in fact, legally known as "George Washington's Birthday (Observed)."
There's a good reason for that, as former presidential speechwriter Lee Bockhorn points out:
Naming George Washington as your favorite president is akin to saying that ice cream is your favorite dessert — not only is he (along with Lincoln) an obvious choice, he is also, on first glance, a boring one. Washington lacked the qualities that endear other presidents to us moderns: Jefferson’s dazzling intellect, Lincoln’s literary power and hardscrabble origins, TR’s superhuman energy, FDR’s patrician élan in the face of polio, Reagan’s warmth and wit.
Washington possessed virtues that are undervalued in our time: an extraordinary sense of duty, prudence, humility, and discretion. As the first president, he established the democratic dignity of the office, avoiding the trappings of monarchy while still imbuing the presidency with grandeur. He successfully managed the enormous egos (e.g., Hamilton, Jefferson) in the first cabinet. And if there ever was an “indispensable man” in American history, it was Washington — yet by voluntarily relinquishing power after two terms, he taught us that no man is indispensable in a democracy.
Other presidents might have been better writers, better dinner companions, or better politicians, but no president inspired more awe and devotion in his countrymen than George Washington — and none was a better man.
And as author Jay Winick adds,
Cast in marble as well as in history, austere, unapproachable, dignified, and visionary in his own right, he resisted all the temptations to make himself a king, created our first government, and gave us the time-honored principle of the peaceful transfer of power from one head of state to another. England’s King George once said that if Washington stepped down from the presidency, he would be “the greatest man in the world.” There’s something to that, too.
Not a bad life's work, even if these are qualities we don't seem to value much anymore. So happy birthday, George Washington! (Even if it isn't until next week...)