The term Presidents Day is incorrect, inappropriate and needs to drop from our national lexicon. It is wrong because it implies that all presidents are equal. It implies that Warren G. Harding deserves equal standing with George Washington. It is politically correct pabulum in an age of moral relativism, an age where everyone gets a trophy just for participatingnot for winning or being great.
Well, all presidents are NOT equal, and what better day to take note of that than today, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincolns birth on February 12, 1809. Today is a good day to reflect on Lincoln and the qualities that made him a leader for the ages.
We have had two truly heroic U.S. presidentsLincoln and Washingtonand two more near-greats in Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. While each man was certainly the product of individual circumstances and different eras, they had one overriding quality in common: they were all men of great character.
Character is an elusive term, but these leaders shared four traits that were the source of their great character. First, they had clarity of right and wrong; second, they had the courage of their convictions; third, they all endured defeat or suffering but had the tenacity to persevere, and fourth, they had the capacity to change and learn from experience. They also all served during times of great turmoil.
Three traits that did NOT link these leaders were geography, wealth or social status. Lincoln, born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana, is our Midwestern president, though from an era when the Midwest was the frontier. Washington was of course our great Virginianand Alexandrian.
Roosevelt was from New York but was hugely influenced by time spent in Georgia recovering from polio, and Reagan, though born and raised in Illinois, spent his adult life in California. In wealth and status, they ranged from the poor Lincoln to the modest upbringing of Reagan to Washingtons moderately wealthy family to FDRs aristocratic brood.
Lincoln was by far the least experienced of these four presidents. He had never served as governor like Roosevelt and Reagan and wasnt a military hero like Washington. He had only served in the Illinois state legislature and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives prior to becoming president (and had suffered an embarrassing defeat to Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate race).
But the location of Lincolns birth and upbringing, coupled with his extraordinary desire to learn and his innate moral compass, ultimately put him at the center of the debate on the great moral issue of his dayslavery. Lincoln was from northern Kentucky and southern Indiana and Illinois: right where north met south and at the edge of the western frontier. Right on the boundaries of new territories, Lincolnthough not then an abolitionisttook an early stand against the spread of slavery into those territories. In time, of course, Lincolns views on slavery evolved and he became the great emancipator, paying for his courage with his life.
Lincolns life remains an inspiration through the ages. But, if any president deserves his own day it is surely Washingtonthe father of our country. Washingtons courage and perseverance in the fight against the British enabled us to win the Revolutionary War, and his careful setting of precedentespecially giving up office after two termsset the example for all who followed.
It is time to drop Presidents Day from usage. The official, federal holiday is actually Washingtons Birthday. Washingtons Birthday was first, unofficially observed while Washington was still alive. It was made an official, federal holiday in 1885. In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, which moved the official observance of Washingtons Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February.
The result of this move is that the Washingtons Birthday holiday can only occur between February 15 and February 21right between Lincolns and Washingtons birthdays. Though Lincolns birthday has never been a separate federal holiday, many states observe a February 12 Lincolns Birthday holiday.
We urge a compromise. If we want to honor more than just George Washington, who is certainly worthy of his stand-alone day, at a minimum lets call it Washington-Lincoln Day and get away from the obnoxious concept of Presidents Day.