Presidents' Day is a time set aside to celebrate the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and also remember all of the presidents of the United States (POTUS) that have made our nation great. Legislation passed under the Lyndon Johnson administration moved the legal observance of Washington's birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. The intent of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill of 1968 was to create three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays: Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, and Columbus Day.
With the birthday of our rail-splitting 16th president falling just 10 days before that of the cherry tree chopper, some states then chose to celebrate both birthdays on the 22nd while others honored all former POTUSes. In 1971, President Richard Nixon provided some clarity by proclaiming that Presidents' Day would be observed as a single federal holiday -- the third Monday of every February -- to honor all past presidents.
Having been to the Lincoln Memorial and Mount Vernon, it is understandable why we give these presidents the lion's share of our affection. After all, one is the father of our country and the other preserved the union. But each president -- in ways large and small -- has contributed to this republic and made America what many of us believe her to be: exceptional. So let our gratitude be universal and also extend itself to not just the current commander-in-chief but also those patriots who have defended our freedom well into America's third century as a nation.
With California home to two presidential libraries, Ronald Reagan's in Simi Valley and Richard Nixon's in Yorba Linda, perhaps a great way to celebrate with the family is learning more about these former heads of state. Hopefully you were able to take in "Creating the United States" at the Skirball Cultural Center which showcased the contributions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and other Founders, and also the spirit of the times: collaboration, cooperation, compromise and creativity. When coupled with the recent "Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War" exhibit at the Huntington Library, we begin to appreciate just how much the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights are expressions of our highest ideals of liberty as Americans.
Our first POTUS still speaks to us from across the ages in that "Perseverance and Spirit could work wonders" on the battlefield and in the diplomatic theater -- be it literal or metaphorical. And may we always be mindful -- especially on this Presidents' Day some 150 years since Lincoln uttered those famous words in Gettysburg: "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
A version of this piece originally appeared in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal.