I'm looking for one of those small brass signaling cannons that fire black powder charges, and if I get one, I will definitely risk the wrath of the Fairfax County authorities by firing a salute to President George Washington from the back deck of my house on the occasion of his birthday. It seems like the only really appropriate form of observance.
Washington was "first in war — first in peace — and first in the hearts of his countrymen" (read the whole eulogy here), and that applies to today's Federal holiday, as well. It is officially and legally "Washington's Birthday." There is no such holiday as "President's Day," even if a million sales ads say otherwise.
We used to know that. According to the National Archives page on George Washington's Birthday:
At the recommendation of [a special joint committee], chaired by Henry Clay of the Senate and Philemon Thomas of the House, Congress adjourned on February 22, 1832 out of respect for Washington's memory and in commemoration of his birth.
Prompted by a memorial from the mayor and other citizens of Philadelphia, the House and Senate commemorated the 130th Anniversary of Washington's birth by reading aloud his Farewell Address.
In a special joint session held in the House Chamber, the House and Senate, along with several cabinet officials, Justices of the Supreme Court and high-ranking officers of the Army and Navy, gathered to listen to the Secretary of State read the address aloud. Eventually, the reading of George Washington's Farewell Address became an annual event for the Senate, a tradition that is still observed to this day.
The SecState used to read the Farewell Address before a joint session? The address in which Washington advised us to have friendly relations and trade with all nations but to avoid foreign wars and entangling alliances? Advice that we pretty much followed up until a generation or two ago?
Here's a small excerpt:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop ... It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world ... Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
I say we ought to have SecStates read that advice again.