The History of Presidents’ Day
Presidents' Day, observed annually on the third Monday of February, is a federal holiday in the United States that honors the birthdays of two of the country's most iconic leaders: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. While the holiday has a relatively recent origin, the legacies of Washington and Lincoln continue to shape the nation to this day.
Presidents' Day, initially called “Washington's Birthday,” was first celebrated as a federal holiday on February 22nd, 1885. This date was selected to honor the first president of the United States, George Washington, who was born on February 22nd, 1732.
The Life and Legacy of George Washington
As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, George Washington played a crucial role in the birth and development of this great nation. He was a leader of exceptional talent, character, and integrity, who helped to shape the country's political, economic, and military institutions. To this day, Washington remains one of the most celebrated figures in American history, his legacy revered and his contributions still remembered over two centuries after his death.
Born in Virginia in 1732, Washington rose to prominence as a military officer during the French and Indian War. In 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned Washington as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, a position he’d retain until the end of the war. Although a skilled military tactician, Washington more importantly offered the Continental Army a visionary outlook and an unflappable, “never-quit” attitude – valuable traits that ultimately helped lead the USA to victory and independence over the British Empire in 1783. A testament to his humility and character, Washington resigned his commission on December 23rd, 1783, in what he expected to be the end of his public service to the young nation.
In 1789, having been recalled from private farm life at Mount Vernon, Washington was elected as the first President of the United States. His two terms in office helped to establish the country's political institutions and lay the groundwork for future presidents. As the country's first president, he set a standard of integrity, honesty, and dignity that would come to define the presidency. Washington epitomized the characteristics of a true statesman and understood the importance of national unity, working tirelessly before, during, and after his presidency to bring the country together. Although pressured to serve a third term as president, in 1796 Washington declined to run again, thereby cementing the 2-term precedent later codified in the 22nd Amendment. Washington finally returned to private life at Mount Vernon in 1797. Just two years later in December 1799, Washington died at the age of 67.
Today, the world remembers George Washington as a man of great character who successfully led the colonies to independence and guided the nation through its infancy. His legacy extends far beyond the United States, influencing leaders and nations around the world. His contributions to the birth and development of the country, his unwavering commitment to its values and principles, and his strength of character continue to inspire generations to this day.
Nearly a century after the first celebration of “Washington's Birthday,” Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 in an effort to create more three-day weekends for workers. As part of this act, the celebration of Washington's Birthday was moved to the third Monday of February, and officially became known as President's Day. Congressional leaders pushed for this change to honor not just Washington, but also Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12th, 1809.
The Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, is widely considered one of the greatest American leaders in history. His impact on the country was profound, as he led the nation through one of its darkest periods, the American Civil War, and helped to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. To this day, Lincoln remains a symbol of courage, wisdom, and integrity, his legacy revered by generations of Americans.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky in 1809 and rose to prominence as a lawyer and political leader. He served as a representative in the Illinois state legislature and was elected as President in 1860, at a time when the country was deeply divided over the issue of slavery. He proved to be a visionary leader, with a deep commitment to preserving the Union and fighting for the rights of all Americans.
Lincoln's presidency was defined by the American Civil War, which broke out just months after he took office. As Commander-in-Chief, he led the country through four long and bloody years of conflict, using his military skills and political savvy to keep the Union intact and ultimately secure victory for the North. He was a man of great compassion, using his presidency to ease the suffering of those affected by the war, and working tirelessly to bring the country back together in the aftermath of the conflict.
Lincoln's most enduring legacy, however, is his role in ending slavery in the United States. Despite opposition from many in the South and within his own cabinet, he persevered in his commitment to abolish slavery, signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and later pushing through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery throughout the country. Although Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth before he saw the 13th Amendment enshrined in law, his leadership in early 1865 ultimately led to the Amendment’s successful ratification in December 1865 – 8 months after his death.
Lincoln's impact on American history extends far beyond his role in ending slavery, however. He was a visionary leader, with a deep commitment to preserving the Union and fighting for the rights of all Americans. He was a man of great courage, standing firm in the face of opposition and making difficult decisions when necessary. He was also a man of deep principle, with a strong moral compass that guided his actions and decisions throughout his presidency.
Lincoln's legacy extends far beyond the United States, influencing leaders and nations around the world. His contributions to ending slavery and preserving the Union, his unwavering commitment to justice and equality, and his strength of character continue to inspire generations of Americans to this day.
Presidents' Day Today
Although the Uniform Monday Holiday Act sought to honor the specific legacies of Washington and Lincoln, its official name change to “Presidents' Day” has meant that since 1971, the national holiday now honors the legacies of all American presidents.
Despite its wide-ranging origins, the celebration of Presidents' Day has evolved in interesting ways over the years. Citizens across the country celebrate the holiday with patriotic ceremonies and parades. Others celebrate in their own personal ways, taking the day to reflect on the importance of the American presidency and the history of the country.
While Presidents' Day is a federal holiday, its observance is not universal. Virginia, New York, Illinois, and Iowa all celebrate the third Monday in February as “Washington’s Birthday,” and Virginia celebrates Washington’s birthday the entire month of February. Regardless of how individual states observe the holiday, Presidents' Day remains an important occasion in the national calendar – a time to reflect on the history of the country and the contributions of its leaders.
Since the first celebration of Washington’s birthday in the late 19th century, Americans have recognized the importance of remembering and honoring the nation’s early leaders. While the holiday originated as an opportunity to honor the country’s first president, it has since grown to include the celebration of all American presidents. Whether you choose to celebrate Presidents' Day with a patriotic parade or through taking advantage of sales and discounts offered by retailers (perhaps you've even found something in the CIVVIESUPPLY "Patriotic Collection"), we hope you’ll spend time reflecting on the history and rich heritage of the United States and the men and women who helped shape her.
Happy Presidents' Day!