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February 18, 2011 > Two great men, one great day

Two great men, one great day

By Julie Grabowski

While Presidents' Day registers joyful thoughts of no school, a three-day-weekend, a quick getaway or shopping opportunity, the holiday began simply as Washington's Birthday, a respectful recognition of the man known as the "Father of Our Country."

George Washington (1732-1799) is a towering figure in our nation's history, serving in political and military formats as a leader in the Continental and U.S. Army, and ultimate role as the first president from 1789-1797. He brought us victory in the American Revolution, developed a system of government still in use today, and oversaw the creation of the United States Constitution.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) grew up poor in Kentucky, but was an ambitious, self-taught man who became another important figure in American history. Elected as our 16th president in 1861, Lincoln guided the country through the Civil War, delivering the famous Gettysburg Address. His assassination on April 14, 1865 during a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington cut short his impactful life.

Washington's February 22nd birthday and Lincoln's February 12th birthday were observed separately until 1968 when Congress implemented a joint, uniform federal holiday to be observed on the third Monday of every February. The law took effect in 1971, though some were unhappy about the decision, fearing that Washington's singular importance would be lost or diminished. There was also resistance to renaming the holiday "Presidents' Day," and the attempt didn't make it through committee. Though it officially remains Washington's Birthday, Presidents' Day had become the general term of use.

These men are a huge part of our heritage and everyday life, their likenesses appearing on our money and postage stamps, their names on our street signs and school buildings, along with the numerous monuments in their honor, including Mount Rushmore on which they appear together. Washington also bears the distinction of having the nation's capital named after him, as well as the only state to be named for a president.

Presidents' Day is a tribute to two great leaders in American history, men of strong conviction and character who made a tremendous impact on the development of our country. So take a moment to ponder how far we have come thanks to those who have gone before, allowing us to stand on their shoulders and press forward to become the great nation we are today.

In observance of the holiday, banks, schools, and government offices will be closed. Libraries were closed Friday, February 11 for Lincoln's birthday, and bookworms will have to postpone their visits once again as branches are closed on the 20th and 21st in honor of Presidents' Day.

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