Donald J. Trump's second impeachment trial proceeds apace today, while the weather on the East Coast is challenging. But there's happy news: Today is the 290th birthday of George Washington.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking. That's not right -- the Father of Our Country was born on Feb. 22, wasn't he? And wasn't he born in 1732, which would be 289 years ago?
George Washington's family Bible describes his arrival into this world in this way: "George Washington, Son to Augustine & Mary his Wife was born the 11th Day of February 1731-2 about 10 in the Morning & was Baptised the 5th of April."
So, you ask, what's the deal with Feb. 11 -- and does "1731-2" have anything to do with it? The answer is that the funky date notation, common in the mid-18th century, has everything to do with it. George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731 under the old Roman calendar, also called the "Julian calendar" (after Julius Caesar). The Julian calendar had a nice, long run of 16 centuries, but it was a little off in its calculations, so in the 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII made an adjustment.
This kept Easter in the spring, which was the main idea, but it threw other things off, and
England (and its colonies) didn't switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752. This presented a problem for a young man born two decades earlier.
Now, instead of being born on Feb. 11, 1731, Washington was told that his real date of birth was Feb. 22, 1732. That must have been confusing, but Washington wasn't the only one who was confused. When Thomas Jefferson inquired on Feb. 10, 1792 if he might stop by Washington's office to wish him well on the occasion, the president's secretary, Tobias Lear, replied archly that "the president considers the 22nd day of this month as his birthday, having been born on the 11th old Style."
Tobias Lear's stuffy response hints at some disapproval of Jefferson by the president. Why do I say that? Because George Washington's own diaries reveal that while he commanded American forces during the Revolutionary War, he made merry on the earlier date. Moreover, in 1799 -- which turned out to be last year of his life -- Washington attended a birthday party in his honor thrown by the city of Alexandria, Va. We know this from a piece in a newspaper called the Columbia Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, dated this very day in 1799.
"This day is justly dear to all true Americans, was celebrated in this town in a style heretofore unprecedented," the paper's editor wrote. He continued: "The Editor regrets that he does not possess talents to describe the proceedings in the manner which they deserve."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.