February 15, 2016

Presidents' Day

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The Smithsonian's American History Museum is home to the inkwell President Abraham Lincoln used while writing the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.  The museum notes that Republicans in Congress were urging President Lincoln to take a stand for freedom, and Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation ordering that on January 1, 1863, all slaves in states still in rebellion would be "then, thenceforward, and forever free."  The original of the Emancipation Proclamation now rests in the National Archives. 

Like President Lincoln, many of our nation's presidents led our country through difficult times, shaping the course for advancing our great United States of America.  The Smithsonian aptly titled its exhibit on the American Presidency "A Glorious Burden."  This Presidents' Day we celebrate, once again, the enormous contributions of the past presidents who guided Americans and helped build our nation into the leader of the free world.

The celebration of this federal holiday is tied to the birthday of our nation's first president, George Washington, who led our country during the American Revolutionary War and helped form our government as a Founding Father.  The holiday typically falls between the birthdays of President Washington and President Lincoln.  President George Washington was born February 22, 1732.  President Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809.   According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in 1879, Congress added George Washington's Birthday, February 22, to the list of holidays observed.  Then, in 1968, through the enactment of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, the commemoration of the holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February.  CRS notes that contrary to popular belief, federal law did not mandate the name of the holiday be changed from Washington's Birthday to Presidents' Day.  Nonetheless, the holiday has been widely recognized as a time to honor all of those who have served in our nation's highest office.

This Presidents' Day, we can reflect on the collective legacy of some of our nation's great leaders and assess what we can do as Americans responsible for the future of our nation to maintain the foundation they built and propel our nation forward into a new era of progress.  President Lincoln's words in his annual message to Congress in 1862 still ring true today:  "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we might rise to the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."  We have our work cut out for us to grow our country and set it on a sound path, but we have every opportunity to rise to the occasion.   

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