Boots & Sabers

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0714, 08 Jul 20

Celebrating Juneteenth

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Proving that nuance and rational discussion is currently disallowed when it comes to debating anything related to race, Senator Ron Johnson stepped into the a hornet’s nest when he offered an amendment to a bill to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

There is currently a bipartisan push to make June 19th, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. June 19th, 1865, is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to occupy the state and announce that all enslaved people were free. It is regarded as the date when the news of emancipation reached the last of the remaining slaves in the United States. While it is not the date of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), or the date of ratification of the 13th Amendment (December 6th, 1865), Juneteenth has become the anniversary that we celebrate the end of the evil practice of legal slavery in the United States.

The first question to ask is should we celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday? Absolutely. Slavery was the original sin of our nation and we atoned for it with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans in a brutal Civil War. Ending slavery was a seminal moment in our nation’s history that brought us closer to the ideals of liberty and equality as beautifully enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence. It is long overdue that we have a formal celebration of the abolition of slavery.

To this end, a bipartisan assemblage of senators drafted a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. First, we must be clear on what that means. The federal government cannot mandate that Americans celebrate anything. A designated federal holiday simply means that the federal government is giving all non-essential federal employees the day off of work to commemorate the event. Usually, but not always, states and private businesses follow the federal government’s lead. For example, almost everyone gets a days off for Independence Day and Memorial Day, but the same cannot be said for Washington’s Birthday or Columbus Day. The designation of a federal holiday, or lack thereof, has absolutely no bearing on whether or not people choose to celebrate or commemorate an event.

There is, however, a cost associated with the federal government granting a holiday to its employees. That cost is estimated to be about $600 million that the taxpayers have to bear for paying federal employees to not work. In order to save the taxpayers that expense, Senator Johnson offered an amendment to trade Columbus Day for Juneteenth Day. Columbus Day is largely celebrated in the Italian-American community, but overlooked by most other Americans.

Johnson’s amendment set off a firestorm of criticism from the political Right accusing him of surrendering to the radical Left. And the political Left lambasted Johnson and accused him of racism for putting up a roadblock to the Juneteenth bill. Both sides were wrong. Senator Johnson is staying true to form as a fiscal hawk. Those birds are more and more rare in an age of sweeping deficits, trillion dollar spending packages, and mounting federal debt.

In the face of a withering crossfire, Johnson has since withdrawn his amendment and is, instead, planning to introduce a bill to reduce paid leave time for federal employees to offset the cost of adding an eleventh official federal holiday to the calendar. This proposal will likely run into the buzz saw of opposition from the federal employee unions and will never be passed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House.

In the end, we will add Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It will be a welcome and long overdue celebration of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, the taxpayers will be stuck with yet another bill for which we will borrow money to pay.


0714, 08 July 2020


  1. Randall Flagg

    Well written Owen.  In a functional government/society, there would have been a discussion on:

    1)  Whether to drop a holiday to accommodate this one.

    2)  Different ways to offset the $600M to not stick the taxpayers with the bill.  For example, cutting spending by $600M.  Lots of wasteful to target for that.  For example:


  2. Tuerqas

    Excellent link Randall, thanks.

    One could add that in a functional society we could add the option of an unpaid day off.  You could use your own PTO or work depending upon your beliefs and what actions the specific job could offer.  Theoretically, everyone should be able to afford a day off or five from work in a year.

  3. dad29

    Ahh, yes!!  But in a FRUGAL society, RoJo could have proposed limiting paid holidays to 5/year, no more than 3 weeks’ vacay, and 10 paid personal days.  Take whichever holidays you want; personal days can be used for ‘sick’ days, as can vacay.  After that, you’re on your own.

    Naturally, seniority governs holiday selection, as does ‘exigent circumstance’ in the employing department.

  4. Randall Flagg


    Serious question.

    When, in your opinion was the last time the U.S was a frugal society?


  5. jjf

    Tuerqas – I’ve even heard of employers who found it easier to not even bother to keep track of time off and vacations.  Get your work done, period.

  6. Jason

    > I’ve even heard of employers who found it easier to not even bother to keep track of time off and vacations

    Says the guy who’s busiest times on Reddit are between 7AM and 2PM local time.  Why track time indeed.

  7. Tuerqas

    Tuerqas – I’ve even heard of employers who found it easier to not even bother to keep track of time off and vacations.  Get your work done, period.

    Yeah, they call it unlimited vacation.  I know one person who has it and it sounds great for suitably motivated people.

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