Should former Presidents be honored?
A great ball is to be given here [Philadelphia] on the 22d [of February], and in other great towns of the Union. This is, at least, very indelicate, and probably excites uneasy sensations in some. I see in it, however, this useful deduction, that the birthdays, which have been kept, have been, not those of the President [Washington], but of the General [Washington].
To James Madison, Feb. 1798, 839
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Today, February 22, is George Washington’s birthday. He was born in 1732, 11 years before Thomas Jefferson.
Washington had been retired from the Presidency for almost a year when this letter was written and was held in high esteem. The upcoming birthday celebration was causing some division within the Federalist party. Another letter to Madison (840) after the event recorded, “The sincerely [President John] Adamites did not go. The Washingtonians went religiously … “
As a rule, Jefferson disliked celebrating the birthdays of public officials. He thought it smacked of the British system. He was willing to concede the value of this recognition because it was for Washington, the General of our war for independence, and not for Washington the President.
Also in that second excerpt (840), Jefferson noted that eventually, time would bring and end to such events.
Read about what Jefferson thought of celebrating his own birthday in this post from July 4, 2011.
Let Thomas Jefferson share with your audience
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