Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 2/12/2010 [Archive]

Happy President's Day

Happy President's Day

By Martha Randolph Carr

Actually, the third Monday in February is still officially on the books as George Washington's Birthday. No one in Washington has ever gotten around to changing the name even though it's widely accepted that this is the day we remember the contribution of everyone who's held the highest office in America.

That's a great sentiment and considering how much we love to kick around whoever is currently the president, offering a little respect for the office is a good idea.

President Chester Arthur started the holiday in 1885 as a way to celebrate George Washington as our founding father. Arthur, who was most famous for becoming president after James Garfield was assassinated, was a Baptist, a lawyer and a Republican who fell out of favor with his own party. They wouldn't give him the nomination even though he was the sitting president. That's rough politics. That's also more than most of us have probably ever known about Arthur.

His most positive accomplishment, besides the federal holiday, is the Pendleton Civil Service Act, which is well regarded today but is believed to be what cost him the nomination. It created the modern civil service system and points out the reason the day eventually grew to include all presidents. Despite all of the pomp and perks, this is a civil service job where we all get the opportunity to choose who fills it.

It makes the day a great time to pause and reflect on how we can all be of service. No matter what job each of us has, we can approach our duties with the idea of being of service to others. It's a lot harder to feel resentment over the details we don't like if we can see all of it as serving a purpose. Then it's no longer about our ego and whether or not we shine and more about being a grateful member of society.

That's where George Washington, our very first president, really set the standard for the rest of us. The monarchs of that era fully expected Washington to make a power grab and declare himself, president-for-life. That would have been the norm and a more proven system of continuity as a means to keep a country moving along peacefully. Countries were seen as most vulnerable when the leader was brand new and untested.

To purposely set up a system in the US that chose to change the commander in chief every four years and then let the common people decide who'd get to lead was thought of as nutty.

But, when the second term ended and even the voters begged Washington to stay, he declined, refusing once again to allow anyone to compare him to royalty. It was a very important turning point for our country as Washington chose to uphold an ideal and let go of the control.

Imagine a CEO of an enormous conglomerate stepping back and letting the shareholders decide who gets to take his place. Imagine that over 200 years later, eve when your choice doesn't win, the corporation continues to grow and thrive. We have been the somewhat grateful recipients of all of that, and all on a civil servant's salary.

There wasn't even a pension until just after Harry Truman, when he and the only other living president, Herbert Hoover, began to receive $25,000 per year until their death. Not exactly the golden parachutes we've become painfully used to on Wall Street.

So, as you enjoy your cherry pie in honor of Washington's example of rigorous honesty, raise a fork and salute those who still give of themselves to make sure democracy rules. Happy President's Day everyone.

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