In 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring February 22 a day of celebration honoring George Washington. A federal holiday on February 22 was officially passed into law in 1879 for federal employees in Washington, D.C., and in 1885 the day became a paid holiday for all federal employees. Over time, it became a holiday for many state and business employees, too.
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day occurred in the late 1960s, when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This Act included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday and Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809) on the third Monday in February.
Since 1862, there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address be read on his birthday. The address is a 6,000-word statement printed in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser in which Washington sought to explain his decision not to run for a third term re-election.