Honor All Presidents On Their Special Day
Some years ago the birthdays of Washington and Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and 22, respectively, were celebrated as two separate holidays. For a number of reasons, one being efficiency, the two dates were made into a single federal holiday on the third Monday in February that celebrates the 44 terms of all 42 presidents. (The numbers and terms don’t match because one president, Grover Cleveland, served nonconsecutive terms.)
Like the America they served as Chief Executive, the 42 presidents have differing backgrounds and histories. William Henry Harrison served the shortest term, a little over a month, and Franklin Roosevelt the longest, 12 years. Some, like Roosevelt, came from patrician backgrounds, others, like Herbert Hoover, were self-made men and, also like Hoover, had distinguished careers before coming to the White House. Others achieved greatness after taking office.
Like the presidents and the office they have held, much has changed since Washington was first inaugurated in New York City. From 13 colonies huddled along the Atlantic seaboard, today the nation stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and almost reaches Siberia. It extends from a point in the Florida Keys almost to Cuba and from the Rio Grande to north of the 70th parallel of latitude. In 1789 a letter took at least a week to get from New York City to Philadelphia; today, the Internet delivers e-mail around the world in nanoseconds. Two centuries ago presidential candidates were known to most of their prospective constituents by no more than name and reputation at most. Today, television puts names, faces, words and deeds in the homes and consciousness of millions of people worldwide instantaneously.
More extensive and varied than the landscape is the population: In Queens alone, more than 125 languages are spoken by people who have emigrated here from more than 117 countries. Among other reasons, most have come here out of a wish to live in a political system that democratically elects its leadership. Over the past 225 years we have amply demonstrated our ability to change our leaders peacefully. Besides the democratic process by which we change our leaders, presidents have died in office, some through illness, a few at the hands of assassins, but in each case, the vice president peacefully succeeded. In some other places a change in leadership is preceded by rioting and bloodshed and succeeded by vicious repression of any dissent; here we go peacefully on with our lives.
Each president has had individual strengths and weaknesses. No one can be all things to all people all the time, and presidents have demonstrated this fact throughout our nation’s history. Nonetheless, all have brought something unique and special to the office and to the still growing and developing story of the United States. On this Presidents’ Day 2005, we urge our readers to take a moment to acknowledge the part all have played in making the nation what it is today.