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Presidents' Day

The nation remembers our greatest leaders

By Ezra Billinkoff | February 18 , 2008
Presidents' Day honors two of the nation's greatest Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Presidents' Day honors two of the nation's greatest Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (Photo: Library of Congress)

 

There is no school on Monday for students all across the country. Many companies are closed, too. Almost everyone gets some time off as the nation celebrates Presidents’ Day. The holiday honors two of our greatest Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Every year, the third Monday of February is set aside by the federal government to honor these men and their contributions to the nation. The celebration officially started in 1880, when Washington’s Birthday (February 22) became an official holiday in Washington, D.C. It became a national holiday in 1885.

In 1971, Congress officially moved the holiday to the Monday closest to Washington's actual birthday. In the 1980s, the holiday became a celebration of the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln (born February 12).

Why Washington and Lincoln?


Why do Washington and Lincoln get all the attention? Washington, the nation’s first President, led the Continental Army to defeat the British. He directed the poorly equipped troops through the dead of winter and held the operation together by being a strong leader. He later presided over the Constitutional Convention, where the U.S. Constitution—the set of our nation’s most precious laws—came to life. Many refer to him as the “Father of Our Nation.”

Abraham Lincoln is also considered one of the nation’s greatest Presidents. Lincoln helped keep the country that Washington built in together. He led the country in the 1860s, and when the U.S. Civil War broke out, he insisted on keeping the South and the North in the Union. During the bloody war, Lincoln freed the slaves in the South with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Different Celebrations

While Presidents’ Day is an official national holiday, each state is allowed to decide how to celebrate it and even what to call it. While every state has at least some mention of George Washington, some leave Abraham Lincoln out of the celebration. In Alabama, for example, the state celebrates Washington and Jefferson Day, named for Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third President. (Jefferson was born in April.)

Massachusetts celebrates Washington Day in February, and has a separate holiday called Presidents’ Day to honor the Presidents who came from New England. Washington’s home state, Virginia, calls it George Washington Day. In his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, visitors can celebrate with a birthday party.

Presidents’ Day traditions reach the highest points of our nation’s government. Each year, a member of the U.S. Senate reads Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday. Washington gave the speech at the end of his second term as President. Among other things, it calls on Americans to avoid the dangers of factionalism, or breaking into strong political parties.

 

About the Author

Ezra Billinkoff is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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    by James G. Barber

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    The Presidency

    The Presidency

    by Christine Taylor-Butler

    SET FEATURES:

    •     Superb age-appropriate introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects
    •     Covers all studies, from Animals to American History, Geography to Science
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      4/1/08 School Library Journal
      In these updates of the old "New True" series, the graphics take center stage. These books have more color, more eye appeal, more "pop" than older approaches to these often-studied topics. Unfortunately, they have more style than substance. Of the two, Supreme Court is more focused and therefore more effective in providing information. It answers the questions students will have, and includes some entertaining trivia. Presidency takes a more scattered approach. An explanation of the system of checks and balances is greatly simplified. A few examples are listed but no attempt is made to show the full effect that each branch of government has on the others. In discussing the executive branch, the author says, "The departments and agencies of this branch do many things." She then cites the CIA, Peace Corps, and Department of Labor, perhaps to illustrate the great variety of responsibilities within that branch, but does not offer a chart or diagram showing all of the cabinet posts and their purposes. As a result, children may be left confused as to how the presidency is related to the other areas. The back covers promise "surprising, TRUE facts that will shock and amaze you!" While these titles provide visually appealing, basic introductions to the topics, few readers will be shocked or amazed. Muriel L. Dubois's The U.S. Presidency (Capstone, 2003) takes a more straightforward approach to supplying facts.

       

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