Monday, February 15, 2016

Presidents Day 2016

Today marks the official federal holiday known as Washington's Birthday. At one time the nation had a Washington's Birthday holiday on February 22, the actual day of the man's birth, but that changed in 1971 when the "Monday holiday rule" took effect. The rule was

a postlude to a torturous twenty year saga of federal bickering, ineptitude, and state's rights issues over the national failure to honor our presidents, especially Abraham Lincoln, with their very own holiday. The fallout left us with what is in reality a Washington's Unbirthday holiday and a three-day weekend. Poor Honest Abe's birthday didn't even make the official cut.
Never keen to let a good shopping opportunity pass, American capitalists liked the idea of a President's Day, especially one that could be stretched over a full week . And Lincoln and Washington were a perfect match. Merchants saw the advantage of the patriotic fervor generated by matching silhouettes of Lincoln - log cabins - and Washington - axes and cherries - positioned over merchandise and big red signs reading "SALE." The concept caught on. Today, about all Americans have left with the third Monday in February is the opportunity to buy stuff, mostly stuff they don't need. On the federal level, this not only leaves us with nothing for Old Abe but also nothing for the other presidents save George.

So what is one to do? Perhaps it's best to forget the issues of a misnomer and the neglected presidents and return to Lincoln and Washington as our February presidents. And they have more in common as presidents who share the quality of American exceptionalism, a term we've been hearing more often these days as the republic drifts ever deeper into its golden years. With that in mind, I suggest readers find a comfortable setting and reflect on these men and their place in the American experience. If readers need a bit of encouragement here are two statements, one so very brief, the other a bit longer, both reflecting the greatness of their authors and the hope they shared for our unique national experience:

Washington's Farewell Address, written in 1796 on his coming departure from the presidency,  
and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863.

There is a growing national trend to refer to this day as "Presidents Day." Perhaps a day focused on the office instead of the long line of mostly dead white men doesn't matter much in a nation that has lost its appreciation for history and reality over the past decades. In my view there are still some personalities and events worthy of authentic remembrance if we want to keep the American experience alive and well. 


Photos and Illustrations:
early 20th century postcards from the author's archive

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