Presidents’ Day: A Centuries-Old Tradition

Filed in American Culture by on February 15, 2017 0 Comments

Photo by CameliaTWU.

Americans will celebrate Presidents’ Day on February 20. The day will bring sales at retail stores, war re-enactments, and a variety of other ceremonies.  However, it is an important time to reflect back on the initial intent of this long-standing federal holiday.

Presidents Day was originally celebrated on February 22, the birthday of America’s first president George Washington. He is often regarded as one of the most influentia’l leaders in American history. Born in Colonial Virginia in 1732, George Washington grew up to study military arts and western expansion. At the age of 22, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army in 1754 and played a role in the French and Indian War, which is also known as the Seven Years’ War outside the United States.

At the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775, George Washington was appointed to lead the Continental Army and the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. After forcing the surrender of British troops at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, George Washington’s focus shifted to forming the new nation.

He participated in the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On September 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed and George Washington was unanimously chosen as the first President of the United States. He was sworn in on April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York. After serving two terms as President, he retired to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he died of a throat infection on December 14, 1799.

In 1800, citizens of the United States decided to unofficially pay homage to him annually. It wasn’t until 1879 that Presidents’ Day became an officially recognized holiday to be celebrated in remembrance of the first president. It was signed into law by the Nineteenth President of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes. The original measure only applied to the District of Columbia, but by 1885, the day became a federal holiday to be recognized in every state of the country.

In the 1960’s, the date of the holiday coincided with the Uniform Monday Holiday Acton the third Monday of every February. At this point, the holiday took on the added meaning of recognizing “the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives.” Today, individual states within the country do still recognize George Washington’s birthday separately, but Americans take Presidents’ Day as an opportunity to celebrate all 45 U.S. presidents who have served their duty to the country.