President’s Day isn’t an actual holiday. The truth is that it’s officially recognized as Washington’s Birthday, but became commonly known as President’s Day because of its proximity to Lincoln’s birthday and the popularity of retailers advertising sales under the day’s banner. To honor the holiday, I purchased a copy of Washington’s Crossing by David Fischer, the first of two presidential publications I read in February.
The book focuses on Washington’s crossing of the Delaware river on Christmas night in 1776, famously painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze in 1851. It sets up the dramatic night with the retelling of a number of American defeats prior to that night all under the command of George Washington. These setbacks were slowly eroding public support for the revolution and the American army nearly crumbled under Washington’s leadership. But a series of risky decisions epitomized by the crossing completely saved the American revolution and swayed popular opinion.
The book is much more than a timeline of events because it explores the nature of George Washington’s leadership. It was interesting to discover that our first commander-in-chief led his army much like the democracy he was trying to create. While British generals made top-down decisions that were completely disconnected from the reality of front lines, Washington sought advice and opinion from many of his subordinates. Many times his own opinion was swayed by the influence of this team he assembled. His commitment to the cause allowed him to respect and trust his own leaders, who in turn trusted him all the more. (Read my SOPA-PIPA post on this leadership lesson)
The heart of book is the crossing of the Delaware itself. It was a bold decision that, as it’s often said, “echoes for eternity.” By all indications the revolution would have fizzled without the success of that Christmas campaign with Washington at the helm. It’s a compelling 500 page book that’s difficult to put down. If history is your thing, then give it a whirl. If nothing else, explore some websites that consolidate the events of Christmas 1776. You’ll understand why President’s Day weekend is more than a great time for sales at Target, and you’ll have a greater appreciation of why Washington’s Birthday is just as important a holiday as Independence Day.