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Opinion

Presidents Day honors history

Cristin Dempsey

Published February 14th, 2013

Just one month after this year’s presidential inauguration brings another day to honor the numerous men that have led our country throughout history.

Every year on the third Monday in February, the United States takes the time to honor all of the U.S. presidents on the federal holiday known as Presidents Day. It is a day that was originally chosen to celebrate first president George Washington’s birthday, but it is now a day used to honor all our past leaders.

Instead of thinking of it just as another day, it is important to develop knowledge on the federal holiday and what it means to the United States.

The idea for this federal holiday was first implemented in 1879 as an act of the United States Congress for the government offices in the District of Columbia. The sole purpose for this day was to honor our first president on the anniversary of his birth. In 1885 the idea expanded to include all federal offices in the District of Columbia.

This was officially the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, so Presidents Day was always celebrated on George Washington’s actual birthday, Feb. 22.

It was not until Jan. 1, 1971, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the federal holiday to be the third Monday of February. It is said that this bill went into law in order to promote business. This new implemented act placed Presidents Day anywhere between the dates of Feb. 15 and Feb. 21 annually. This change makes referring to it as Washington’s Birthday a bit preposterous, as it never lands on his actual birthday.

The first attempt to turn the federal holiday into a generic Presidents Day honoring every president was in 1951, when Harold Stonebridge Fischer formed the “Presidents Day National Committee.” His goal was to honor the office of the presidency rather than any particular president. It was originally believed that this holiday should be observed on March 4, the original date of the presidential inauguration. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled the bill that would recognize March 4 as the date of the federal holiday. Since it was so close to both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, having the holiday be on March 4 would be a particularly burdensome idea.

Despite this decision, March 4 was still observed as a federal holiday in several states, observing their own version of Presidents Day.

The official name of “Presidents Day” was proposed in an early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, though it failed to pass. On June 28, 1968, a bill signed into law keeping the name “Washington’s Birthday.” It was in the mid-1980s with the help of advertisers, however, that Presidents Day became a more common name for the holiday with more public appearances.

Despite the fact that Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, was never declared an official holiday, about a dozen state governments have officially renamed the holiday to “Presidents Day.” The name “Washington and Lincoln Day” is another commonly used name.

In various states, there are many Presidents Day customs that are prevalent across the entire country. Various stores, especially car dealerships, hold sales. Corporate businesses would always close on this day up until the late 1980s. Now, more businesses are staying open annually, and the mail service continues.

In addition, there are various societies around the country devoted to this day and many birthday celebrations held at Mount Vernon, the home of Washington. His farewell address is read annually in the United States Senate.

This year, take time to honor the men who have led our country and have worked to keep it free.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.

Comments

One response to Presidents Day honors history

  1. William Fischer says:

    Thanks for mentioning my father in your article. Growing up, I spent many a month before each March 4th, stuffing envelopes to governors, congressmen, etc. and licking stamps.

    Best regards,
    Bill Fischer
    Attorney at Law
    Orange, CA.