President´s Day History

Unfortunately, the observance of Presidents’ Day in the United States is basically ignored by most Americas, unless of course you work for the Federal Government, and then it is a holiday!

In the south, President´s Day is basically considered a Yankee holiday. In the south, newspapers print ads of announcing “President Day Sale!” and that is basically all we do. What a shame, President´s Day is worthy of recognition, if nothing else, because it is a celebration of our American system, a system which permits us to freely elect a president every four years, not to mention a day in which we honor two great men.

So what is President´s Day?

Presidents’ Day is a day intended to honor all the American presidents, but specifically President George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

 

A bit of background information: The United States uses a calendar system known as the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar. President George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. His actual birthday is somewhat contested because the “Old Style” calendar, or Julian calendar, that was used in England until 1752, notes his birth date was February 11th.  Therefore, in the 1790s, Americans were divided; some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and others on February 22nd.

Many believed that President Abraham Lincoln, a president who in so many ways reshaped our country, just as President George Washington did, should also have a special day dedicated to him.  Trying to determine the best day got a little complicated because Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12.  Before 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Things changed in 1968, when the 90th Congress of the United Stated determined that it was time to create a standard system of federal Monday holidays. A bill was passed to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to a Monday. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February.  As we can guess, not all Americans were happy with the new law, some were concerned that Washington’s identity would be diluted since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. Add to the mix that the desire to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day.”

Therefore, even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, the individual states were not unified as to how the celebration as to how this holiday was to be observed.  For example, California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to use the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.”  After that, “Presidents’ Day” became the new title for the holiday and a marketing phenomenon was born. Advertisers developed the concept of a three-day or week-long sales.

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln.  Some state parks stage reenactments and pageants in their honor.

We encourage you to participate in your communities’ celebration of President´s Day. Remember this, each and every president, the great ones and the not so great ones, shaped the country we live in today.  Our democracy and our way of life have been molded by their tenure in office.  Let us then focus on our many blessings and celebrate President´s Day with more than local sales.

I am Attorney Martin E. Regan, Jr., and these are my personal thoughts…