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February 21, 2006 > Presidents' Day

Presidents' Day

by Linda Stone

While you were shopping, looking for those red tags sales over the three-day weekend did you ever stop to think why you were enjoying that Monday off? After all it's not just any Monday, it's Presidents' Day.

Passed in 1968, Public Law 90-363 changed the legal observance of George Washington's birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Since Abraham Lincoln's birthday is on February 12, many states have chosen to combine the two events into Presidents' Day.

The first president, George Washington, is considered the founding father of the United States. He was the only president elected unanimously by 63 electoral votes, on April 30, 1789, when he stood on the balcony of Federal Hall to take his oath of office. He led the army in the American War of Independence and helped write the Constitution outlining laws and rights for U.S. citizens.

Born in 1732, Washington was a son of a gentleman farmer in Virginia where he grew up well-mannered and educated. From an early age, Washington was interested in the military and served as a lieutenant colonel in 1754, fighting small battles that eventually led to the French and Indian War. Up until the American Revolution he managed his land around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Feeling exploited by British merchants, he became discontent with the British regulations and voiced his concerns.

By May 1775 at the Second Continental Congress, he was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and embarked on a six-year war. As president he felt that foreign policy was a concern; when the French Revolutionary war started, he was neither pro-France nor pro-England, but insisted on a neutral course to make the U.S. stronger.

Washington retired at the end of his second term. In his Farewell Address he advocated against "excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions."

He spent less than three years in retirement until his death by infection on Dec. 14, 1799.

Lincoln is probably best remembered for his Emancipation Proclamation that declared freedom for slaves within the Confederacy on Jan. 1, 1863. He believed that secession was illegal and declared Civil War on the southern states warning them in his Inaugural Address "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war."

The son of a Kentucky frontiersman, he was born on Feb. 12, 1809. He had a hard life and had to struggle for a living making remarkable efforts to achieve vast knowledge and eventually became a lawyer. He spent eight years in the Illinois legislature.

Lincoln ran for state senator in 1858 but lost to Stephen Douglas, however during the debates, Lincoln gained a national reputation that helped win the Republican nomination for president in 1860. He was re-elected in 1864 as Union troops proclaimed the end of the Civil War. He encouraged Southerners to lay down their arms and make the nation peaceful. Inscribed on one of the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is his Second Inaugural Address given on March 4, 1865 that states in part, "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."

Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth on Friday, April 14, 1865.

Many of the 43 presidents have changed the face and future of the United States and this holiday not only honors Washington and Lincoln, but all who have served as U.S. presidents.

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