Presidents' Day 2013: Actually, there’s no such thing

We don't care what that newspaper ad says, there's no official 'Presidents' Day' holiday. By law, it's 'George Washington’s Birthday' honoring the Father of Our Country, and only him.

By , Staff writer

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    John Godzieba, portraying Gen. George Washington, walks with his troops toward the boat dock during a re-enactment of Washington's historic crossing of the Delaware River. A strong current kept the re-enactors from making the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
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We know we’re swimming up a creek without a paddle here, but there is no federal Presidents’ Day holiday. We don’t care what your mattress ad says – is that a legal document?

The official name of Monday’s day off is “George Washington’s Birthday.” It’s supposed to honor the Father of Our Country, and only him. Not Abraham Lincoln, not Franklin D. Roosevelt, not any other of the nation’s former chief executives. Chester A. Arthur will just have to get his own holiday, if he can.

If you still don’t believe us take a look at the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management list of 2013 holidays. It’s the official word for the time off US bureaucrats enjoy. It calls Monday, Feb. 18, “Washington’s Birthday,” with an asterisk. At the bottom of the page the asterisk leads to a footnote.

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“This holiday is designated as ‘Washington’s Birthday’ in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees,” says OPM. “Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in law.”

Washington’s Birthday has been a national holiday since 1885.

In 1968, when Congress was considering a shuffle of three-day weekends with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, some Illinois lawmakers tried to get the February holiday stretched to cover Abe Lincoln by calling it “Presidents Day.” But according to an account in the National Archives Prologue Magazine, Virginia legislators, jealous of their state’s prerogatives, blocked the change and maintained Washington as First in Our Hearts, First in the National League East, and First in Special-Today-Only Used Car Discounts.

But this got us thinking. As OPM notes above, the states can do what they want. Illinois recognizes Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate state holiday, for instance. This year they celebrated it on Feb. 12.

Are there any other presidents – besides Abe and George – who have special state days unnoticed by the nation at large?

Yes there are! In Texas, Aug. 27 is recognized as Lyndon Baines Johnson day. That’s the date of LBJ’s actual birthday. State agencies aren’t completely closed that day, but only skeleton crews are required. (Everybody else is home trying to make it through Robert Caro’s Alamo-sized LBJ bio, perhaps.)

And in Missouri, May 8 is set aside as Truman Day, honoring the feisty former haberdasher from Independence on his birthday.

A few years ago there was a move in Missouri to stop the practice of giving state offices Truman Day off. It cost too much money, supporters of the prospective change said. But Harry’s supporters rallied and it’s still a state holiday. There’s probably a “buck stops here” joke in that somewhere – feel free to find it.

Anyway, we feel this is a challenge to other states to match Texas and Missouri in honoring their own. For instance, seven presidents were born in Ohio. Sure, they weren’t exactly the Founding Fathers – William McKinley was maybe the best of the bunch – but that’s still quite a numerical accomplishment. Shouldn’t the Buckeye State recognize that in some day-off way?

New York’s had lots of presidents, so ditto. Vermont had one, Calvin Coolidge, but shouldn’t the flinty New Englander get more of his due? And California, big as it is, has had but one native-born chief executive. Should they make more of a deal about that?

No, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan, he’s from Illinois. It was Richard Nixon. So maybe that would be a bit, um, problematic.

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