One could be forgiven the impression that Presidents’ Day is just another jingoistic inducement for Americans to go shopping for cars and mattresses. Nothing reinforces this impression quite like car commercials featuring schoolchildren singing the names of dead presidents as a nursery rhyme.
Except that anti-Trump protests ‒ featuring the clarion call “Not My President’s Day” ‒ will probably gave customary sales promotions a run for their money this year.
In any event, the U.S. government inaugurated this holiday in 1799 as a day of remembrance to honor the nation’s first president and Revolutionary War hero, George Washington.
Abraham Lincoln is the only other president ever accorded this honor, beginning in 1866. No doubt sympathy and regret over his assassination at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, inspired it. But Americans duly hailed him as the man who “preserved the Union through its darkest hour” – the Civil War.
Since then, however, Americans have considered no other president sufficiently worthy; notwithstanding that they have sculpted the face of two of them (namely, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt) into Mount Rushmore, alongside those of Washington and Lincoln.
Indeed, it’s a testament to the extraordinary character and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he’s the only other American to have a federal holiday – the third Monday in January – declared in his name.
According to History.com, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971. It called for Presidents’ Day and a number of other holidays (like Memorial Day and Veterans Day) to be celebrated on the nearest Monday, irrespective of actual dates, to give federal workers a three-day weekend in each case.
Presidents’ Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. Washington and Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives.
Many to recognize
It is notable in this context that the MLK holiday still stands alone. However, it can only be a matter of time before passage of a National Heroes Holiday Act to recognize the lives and achievements of other great Americans, like Ben Franklin, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain, Jackie Robinson, Neil Armstrong, Elvis Presley, et al.
Thus, I refer you to my commentary on the MLK memorial, “Mall
In that vein, I nominate Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald W. Reagan to grace Mount Rushmore II. Who gets your nominations?