HISTORY OF PRESIDENTS’ DAY
During my lifetime, two American holidays got consolidated into one. In 1971, both Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12) and Washington’s Birthday (February 22) became a single Federal holiday, Presidents’ Day to be observed on the third Monday in February, to honor all the past presidents of the United States. Both Washington’s and Lincoln’s pictures were typically displayed prominently in school rooms. School children in many states have felt cheated out of an extra day off of school ever since.
George Washington was known even during his lifetime as “the father of his country” though between him and Lincoln, Abraham looked more like the father and George’s long hair made him look more like the mother. Nevertheless, George was a natural leader, standing 6’4″ amongst troops that stood 5’9″. He appeared at the Continental Congress in uniform, the natural choice for military leader. He had experience in battle in the French and Indian War in America, fighting for the English King George III, but the American Revolutionary war saw him fighting for independence against the same King that he had earlier served.He served only two terms as President of the new United States of America, though many would have supported his rule for life. Napoleon of France was amazed that Washington would step down when he didn’t need to.
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most popular, best remembered, and most oft written about Presidents in American history. He too served during a time of bitter warfare, again with brother fighting brother and neighbor fighting neighbor, this time though during the American Civil War, or what became known in the South as the War Between the States. While this great conflagration had many economic and political causes, Lincoln’s name remains associated with the abolition of slavery.
Two great wars, one for freedom of independent government, one for a different kind of freedom. More Americans died in that second war than all other wars Americans were ever involved in… because the dead were counted on both sides. Two great Presidents. The first remembered for selfless deeds who served as first President when he might have been king. The other for his great words that began to heal a nation after the largest battle ever fought on American soil. As he remembered those who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg he concluded:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian