Presidents’ Day?

When I was in grade school (that’s 1st – 8th grade for those born after 1970) we celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th, which oddly enough was the day Lincoln was born. We also celebrated Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd. As I recall, we were off school both days because of the significance of these two men to our nation.

George Washington fought as a Colonial British Subject in the French and Indian War, which trained him to lead the Continental Army in America’s Revolution. After the war, he appeared before the Continental Congress and returned his commissioning papers, publicly relinquishing his powers after he believed his work was done. King George III at first did not believe that anyone would willing give up such power; when convinced of it King George remarked something akin to “If he did that, he is the greatest man in the world.”

Washington was the only president elected unanimously by the Electoral College, served two terms and declined a third as well as the suggestion that he be elected for life.

Lincoln did not have Washington’s military genius; he served in the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War. Legend has it that he mustered into the militia as a captain and out as a private. Nevertheless, he ably served as Commander-in-Chief during the Civil War, ultimately resulting in the abolition of slavery throughout the United States. His son, Robert Todd Lincoln convinced his father’s two clerks, who were privy to all his communications, to write the history to ensure that it be clear that the war was about slavery. He believed that an emerging alternative narrative–that the conflict was about state’s rights–be debunked.

Washington’s Birthday was a federal holiday; Lincoln’s Birthday was not, but some states (Kentucky. Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and New York) celebrated it. In the 1980s–when it became the trend for everybody on the team to get a trophy–we began to hear the holiday referred to as “Presidents’ Day.”

According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, the third Monday in February is celebrated as Washington’s Birthday and is a federal holiday. There is no “Presidents’ Day.”

History is fascinating, if you’re willing to take time to learn it.

One response to “Presidents’ Day?

  1. Thank you, Steve, for your insightful overview of President’s Day, rather Washington’s Birthday. The way my good old, tough, wise, farmer, Mexican dad used to per force impress History upon us 13 brothers and sisters–of which I was the youngest–was to say “His-Story” is “Our-Story.” What happened to man before us–happens to us. When we focus on the “problems of man,” we should also contemplate “man as the problem” in our day too.

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