Monday is a holiday, though many people won’t get a chance to observe it. Presidents Day means federal, state and local offices will be closed. The frenzy on Wall Street will stop for a day, most students will get a day off and some will have to wait a day to have their garbage hauled.
Most businesses, including the Bismarck Tribune, will be open. While an official holiday, Presidents Day isn’t treated that way by many in society.
Established in 1885 to recognize President George Washington’s birthday, it was celebrated on Feb. 22, his birthday. The holiday became known as Presidents Day after it was moved to the third Monday in February under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1971. It’s still officially called Washington’s Birthday by the federal government.
Presidents Day is intended to honor all presidents, but the holiday tends to focus on Washington and President Abraham Lincoln. Many consider Washington the father of our country for leading the military in the Revolutionary War and serving as our first president. He set the tone for the presidency by limiting his time in office. He didn’t want the presidency to be a lifetime position like a monarchy.
Lincoln is revered for leading the country through the Civil War and ending slavery. His assassination cemented his place in history.
Washington and Lincoln were born in February along with President William Henry Harrison and President Ronald Reagan. Despite the popularity of Reagan, when Presidents Day is mentioned most think of Washington and Lincoln. Other states honor native sons who served in the White House in a variety of ways.
The president with the most ties to North Dakota remains Theodore Roosevelt. His time ranching, hunting and visiting western North Dakota has become legendary. While the state doesn’t have a Roosevelt holiday, there are many monuments and other reminders of Roosevelt throughout the state.
One reason Washington and Lincoln get most attention might be related to how Americans perceive their presidents. In many ways we love to hate our chief executives. In the last two-plus decades Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have had some die-hard detractors who have said and done some nasty things about them. That’s one of the greatest things about our democracy: the freedom to be vocal critics of our leaders without the fear of being punished.
So, when we want to honor the presidency, we fall back to the legendary presidents. There are a good number of presidents like William Henry Harrison who didn’t leave a legacy that survived the test of time. Washington and Lincoln have legacies that will last forever. Washington helped create our nation and Lincoln saved it. In both instances a lot of blood was shed.
Just about all our presidents have led the nation through difficult times, whether war, depression or natural disaster. They all suffered highs and lows. The least we can do is dedicate one day a year to honor their service.