I certainly agree with David Hazony that Presidents’ Day strips away much of the significance that lay behind the celebration of the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their impact on the history of this country, wholly for the good, could hardly be exaggerated. And their personal conduct is a model for the world.
When King George III learned that Washington had resigned command of the Continental Army rather than use it to make himself king, he supposedly said, “If that is true, then he must be the greatest man in the world.” But aside from diminishing the significance of Washington and Lincoln, Presidents’ Day also, by implication, increases the significance of the likes of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Jimmy Carter, who are to Washington and Lincoln as pebbles are to Everest.
Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, however, having been celebrated in many northern states but not in Southern ones (for obvious reasons), or in most states that were not in the Union during the Civil War. It is today a state holiday only in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, California, and Indiana. But Indiana celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday not on February 12th but on the day following Thanksgiving, for reasons, I suspect, only a Hoosier could grasp.
I wonder if the idea for Presidents’ Day would ever have come up but for the coincidence that Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays are only ten days apart on the calendar. Had Lincoln been born in August, we might still have Washington’s Birthday. But since it did come up and was enacted, giving us an opportunity to reflect upon the greatness of Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur, perhaps Congress’s Day should be added to the list of American holidays as well. Then we could reflect on the greatness of . . . . Well, maybe not.