Editorial on George Washington's birthday, The Sun...

IN AN

February 24, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IN AN editorial on George Washington's birthday, The Sun noted that historians asked to assess the presidents had on four separate occasions in the past half century rated George second and Abraham Lincoln first

A fifth poll of historians rated Franklin D. Roosevelt second, with Washington third. FDR was third in all the other polls.

As a devout follower of astrology, I am pleased to note that those three men claimed birth dates that fell within a few days of each other. They were influenced by the same stars and planets. FDR was born on Jan. 30. George was born on Feb. 11. Abe was born on Feb. 12.

That the stars determine greatness becomes even more evident when you note that the fourth greatest president who ever lived was also born under the same celestial influences. No, I do not mean William McKinley (Jan. 29). I mean Ronald Reagan (Feb. 6).

I know that some of you Readers are now saying to yourself, "Theo has really lost it! That's preposterous! Everybody knows George Washington was born on Feb. 22!" We're both right. He was born on Feb. 22 now, but when he was born it was Feb. 11.

The British changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar on Sept. 2, 1753. So the next day was Sept. 14. They also changed New Year's Day from March 25 to Jan. 1. Thus Feb. 11, 1731 -- Washington's actual date of birth -- became Feb. 22, 1732. Washington, himself, continued to celebrate his birthday on Feb. 11. In his mind his sign was Aquarius.

The Father of Our Country has had several indignities inflicted on him, birthdaywise. After the British changed it from the 11th to the 22nd, the U.S. Congress changed it to the third Monday in February. The third Monday never falls on the 22nd or the 11th.

Maryland followed suit on the third Monday nonsense, an insult it has not inflicted on Abraham Lincoln. His birthday is still by law Feb. 12 in the Free State.

At least we here celebrate Washington's Birthday as Washington's Birthday, not, as in some other states, Presidents' (plural) Day.

Do I really and truly believe Ronald Reagan is the fourth greatest president? Naaawww. It's much too soon after his presidency to have any real historical perspective. But I'd sure bet he'll end up closer to fourth than to 28th.

Twenty-eighth is where a poll of 500 historians put him three years ago. Just behind Zachary Taylor, just ahead of John Tyler, neither of whom served even one full term. Ten places behind William McKinley (or, as he would be known if he were in politics today, Bill McKinley) (or Mack), who served only slightly more than one term.

That assessment of Reagan tells you more about the 500 historians' politics than their scholarship. For good or bad, Reagan had more influence on the nature of American government and history than most presidents.

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