George Washington (1732–1799) & John Adams (1735–1826)
From John Adams: Writings from the New Nation 1784–1826 and
George Washington: Writings
This Monday is the 284th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. When he was born, since the British Empire still used the Julian calendar, the date was actually February 11, 1731. But two decades later, Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, which moved dates forward by eleven days, and changed the beginning of the year from March 25 to January 1. Thus, according to the calendar we all use today, Washington’s birth occurred on February 22, 1732.
As many readers will recall, February 22 was actually an official federal holiday from 1879 until 1971, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and designated the third Monday of February as Presidents Day, with the intention of combining Washington’s Day and Lincoln’s Day. A handful of states still celebrate Washington’s Birthday in addition to Presidents Day and/or Lincoln’s Birthday.
With all that in mind, we present our current Story of the Week selection, an exchange of letters showing an unfamiliar aspect of Washington’s personality: the (justifiably) angry leader. In 1798, as relations with France deteriorated, he agreed to come out of retirement to command a provisional army—and then lost his temper when President John Adams, who despised Alexander Hamilton, shuffled the assignments of the army’s officers. As Thomas Jefferson later recalled, Washington could be “irritable” but he “obtained a firm and habitual ascendency” over his temper. “If ever however it broke its bonds he was most tremendous in his wrath.”