Archive for February, 2010

The Top Ten Things You Should Know about Presidents Day and the U.S. Presidents

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Love is in the air, and department stores are advertising fabulous sales. This can only mean the short month of February has arrived, bringing both a chill to the weather and warmth to the heart. Nestled somewhere around the informal holiday of Valentines Day is the bona fide official federal holiday of Presidents Day. Or is it? Here are the top ten things you should know about Presidents Day and our presidents.
1. The Holiday: There is no official federal holiday called Presidents Day (or President’s Day or Presidents’ Day for that matter). The holiday is, and always has been, legally known as Washington’s Birthday. This day was observed originally on George Washington’s actual birthday, February 22, and was celebrated during our first president’s lifetime. Washington’s Birthday was made official in 1885 when President Chester Arthur signed a bill making it a federal holiday. On June 28, 1968 Congress signed into law the Monday Holidays Act, which moved the official observance of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February. This act took effect on January 1, 1971. Some reformers had wanted to change the name of the holiday to honor both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12, but that proposal was rejected by Congress. While the name change to Presidents Day has never been officially authorized by Congress, it has gained a strong hold on the public consciousness and is commonly used.
2. The Spelling: Because Presidents Day is not the official name of any federal holiday, there is great variation in how it is rendered. Many dictionaries and usage manuals endorse both Presidents Day and Presidents’ Day. The Chicago Manual of Style, The American Heritage Dictionary, and Webster’s Third International Dictionary, as well as the majority of significant authorities, still favor the predominant Presidents’ Day. The popularity of Presidents Day has increased in recent years, however, and is favored by both the Writer’s Digest and Associated Press Stylebook. President’s Day is technically only correct if intending to honor just one president, but is often seen in print even when meant to pay tribute to both Washington and Lincoln.
3. Washington and his Hatchet: Although our first president certainly deserves our respect, it is not due to his honesty as a child. The well known story of young George chopping down a cherry tree and owning up to the transgression comes from an early biography of George Washington entitled Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen. It is likely that author Mason Locke Weems fabricated the famous story.
4. Lincoln’s “Failures”: Our sixteenth president undoubtedly overcame many obstacles before his election. He came from humble beginnings with little formal education. He endured personal tragedies, as well as financial, business and political setbacks. Lincoln’s “failures” have, however been exaggerated to create a more inspirational story. He enjoyed comparable successes such as being elected captain of Illinois’ militia, being elected to the Illinois state legislature and Congress, and establishing his own law practice.
5. The Presidency: A candidate for presidency must be a natural born citizen at least 35 years of age and a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years. Barack Obama is our 44th president, although only 43 individual men have served. Grover Cleveland, the only president to be elected to nonconsecutive terms, is counted as both the 22nd and 24th president.
6. Ages and Terms: The oldest president was Ronald Reagan, who was 69 at the time of his election. The youngest president ever elected was John F. Kennedy, at age 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president ever to serve, however, when at age 42, he succeeded William McKinley, who had been assassinated. Franklin D. Roosevelt served the longest term in office, 12 years, 1 month, and 8 days. (The 22nd Amendment now prohibits election to more than two terms). William Henry Harrison had the shortest tenure, a mere month. He died of pneumonia after giving a lengthy inaugural speech in the snow.
7. Physical Attributes. The tallest president was Abraham Lincoln who stood a towering 6’4”. James Madison was a petite 5’4” and 100 lbs. William Howard Taft weighed in at over 300 lbs, and was so hefty that he once became stuck in the White House bathtub.
8. Presidents on U.S Currency: The following presidents are currently pictured on U.S. coins: Lincoln (penny) Thomas Jefferson (nickel) Franklin D. Roosevelt (dime) Washington (quarter) and Kennedy (half dollar). United States currency notes now in production bear the following presidential portraits: George Washington on the $1 bill, Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill, Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. Presidents William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, James Madison, and Woodrow Wilson have been featured on larger denominations no longer in circulation.
9. Family Life: Only one president, Ronald Reagan, was divorced, and James Buchanan was our only bachelor president. Grover Cleveland married and had a child while in office. Six of our presidents had no children, and John Tyler, father of 15, had the most. Washington had no biological children, although he was a stepfather to his wife’s two children from her first marriage.
10. Presidential “Firsts”: The first president to actually live in the White House was John Adams. The first President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. was Thomas Jefferson. Woodrow Wilson was the first to hold regular presidential press conferences and to speak on the radio. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to appear on TV. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to ride in a car and also to travel abroad while in office. His fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first to fly in an airplane. William Taft started the tradition of the presidential “first pitch” of baseball season in 1910. Since that first pitch, every president except Jimmy Carter has opened at least one baseball season during their tenure.