“To the memory of the Man, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
These are the words of Henry Lee upon the death of our first President, George Washington. Americans throughout the 1800s, cherishing those words, unofficially and spontaneously celebrated the Father of their Country’s birthday every February 22, his actual birthday. President Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1879, signed a law making the day an official holiday, and it became a national federal holiday in 1885, known simply as Washington’s Birthday.
The holiday has changed in two ways since President Hayes signed it into law. First, it has become a “celebration” of all American Presidents, the institution itself; second, Americans celebrate it every third Monday of February. Here’s how these changes came about.
Did you notice all the “Presidents’ Day” sales ads? The holiday was moved to the third Monday of February, giving us a three-day weekend and a boost to the economy. The movement began in the 1960s with Illinois Senator Robert McClory when he presented the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This Act called for, among other things, the moving of the official celebrations of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veteran’s Day to specific Mondays. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act became law in 1971.
Another reason Americans moved the holiday to the third Monday of February was Abraham Lincoln. There was no federal holiday honoring him. What to do? Should we have two holidays in February, one for Washington and another for Lincoln? They settled on a practical solution. Honest Abe was born on February 12, Washington, on February 22. Instead of creating two separate holidays in the same month, they combined them into one and re-named it Presidents’ Day.
Today we’ve come to celebrate, by custom, all the Presidents on this day, the institution itself. In other words, we are celebrating our Constitution.
In conclusion, Presidents’ Day is a bi-partisan American holiday celebrating our institutions and promoting commerce. The Constitution, not the political party, makes us Americans.
Happy Presidents’ Day.
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” ― Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus