February 17th, 2008
| | Posted in History
I was in class last week and had a teacher say “Who knows what important event is happening next week?”
I said “Presidents Day.”
He gave me a blank look and said “How is that important?”
“Because,” I replied, not bothering to hide my irritation “Presidents day celebrates the birth of two of the greatest presidents this country has ever had. This country who’s rights you enjoy and the rights that allow you to be completely ignorant on the importance of those men. That’s how it’s important.”
I hope I can pull a C out of that class.
Since it was asked – the correct answer was the Game Designers Convention
How many of you are aware that President’s Day was originally to commemorate George Washington’ Birthday?
George Washington was born on February 22nd 1732, a tall man (over 6 feet) who was a living legend by the time of the American Revolution; he led our country through one of the toughest periods and was a cultural icon of his time. At the age of 16 he help survey the Shenandoah Valley and later, as a Lieutenant Colonel he saw action against the native Indians in what would later be known as the French and Indian War, which was the war that saw the French presence on the continent ended permanently. Washington escaped injury during the war, though he did have two horses shot out from under him during battles.
For many people, Washington’s greatest and most memorable achievement was leading the continental army against the British forces during the American Revolution. His lands were confiscated by the British and if he had been captured he would have been executed at as traitor to the crown, but for six years he employed tactics of harassment and striking where the enemy was weakest. With the aid of other such great generals, many of whom are not given even half the credit they deserve, and the alliance with the French the United States won its freedom.
To me though, his greatest achievement came many years later. At the end of his second term George Washington was still a very popular figure. So popular was he that at the end of his second term many were wanting him to run for a third term. Others feared that he would forgo a third term in office and instead use his popularity with the military to declare himself king. Instead, in March of 1797, George Washington did the one thing that many at the time could never have conceived of – he willingly gave up his power and allowed the very first transition of Presidential power to John Adams, his former Vice-President.
So why isn’t it called Washington’s Day? Because, there was another great President who deserves equal recognition with Washington – Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb 12th, 1809 in a log cabin in Hardin, KY. Lincoln’s parents were religious and disapproved of slavery, their influence most likely accounts for Abraham’s later statement that he was “naturally anti-slavery” and could not remember when he “did not so think, and feel.” Lincoln’s childhood was in the woods of Indiana on a farm, and while he had limited education he was still able to read, write and do some math. His formal schooling though was for less than a year. He did later earn his law degree at the urging of fellow legislator, John Todd Stuart
He later moved to Illinois and was eventually elected to the lower house in 1834, the first of four successful terms. During this time his anti-slavery bent could be seen in many of his actions. He opposed the Mexican War as unconstitutional and unnecessary, though privately he thought the war was inevitable, and because he objected to any expansion into areas that would allow slavery into new areas; he supported the Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred slavery from any territory gained as a result of the Mexican War. After this he left Congress and returned to his home in Springfield and his law practice.
He returned to politics in 1860 by winning the Republican nomination for president. By the time he took office in 1861 seven southern states that were vehemently opposed to Lincoln as President because of his views on slavery, seceded from the union and began the only war in US history where brother has fought brother.
The Constitution protected slavery in peace, but in war, Lincoln came to believe, the commander in chief could abolish slavery as a military necessity. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862, bore this military justification, as did all of Lincoln’s radical measures, including especially his decision in the final proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, to accept blacks in the army. By 1864, Democrats and Republicans differed clearly in their platforms on the race issue: Lincoln’s endorsed the 13TH Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, whereas McClellan, the Democratic presidential candidate, pledged to return to the South the rights it had had in 1860.
Lincoln’s election victory over McClellan changed the history of the country, and on April 14th 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer and racist, shot and killed President Lincoln. This was five days after General Robert Lee surrendered his forces.
While George Washington helped create the Union, Abraham Lincoln helped save it. In 1968, legislation (HR 15951) was enacted that affected several federal holidays. One of these was Washington’s Birthday, the observation of which was shifted to the third Monday in February each year whether or not it fell on the 22nd. This act, which took effect in 1971, was designed to simplify the yearly calendar of holidays and give federal employees some standard three-day weekends in the process.
And that is why we celebrate Presidents Day.