Honoring our nation’s leaders

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George Washington

Although most people will be working on Monday, federal employees and a few others will be taking the day off to celebrate Presidents’ Day. The holiday has its origins as a celebration of the United States’ first president, George Washington, but it has come to be a celebration of Washington and Abraham Lincoln specifically, and all the presidents in general.

Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731 while England (which was the ruler of the American colonies at the time) was still using the Julian Calendar. During Washington’s lifetime, England adopted the modern Gregorian Calendar, so Washington’s Birthday was adjusted to Feb. 22. In 1796, the final year of Washington’s presidency, his birthday was adopted as a national holiday.

Later, Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, was also chosen to be a holiday. This meant for many years businesses and governments closed to honor both presidents’ birthdays. Then in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which established all the federal holidays. And Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays were merged into one holiday, on the third Monday of February.

Officially, federal law calls the day “Washington’s Birthday,” but it is commonly known as “Presidents’ Day.”

Interesting facts about the 42 U.S. presidents

€ George Washington was not only the first president, he was also the only one who was not affiliated with a political party. In his final speech as president, Washington warned about the divisiveness of political parties.

€ George W. Bush is considered the 43rd U.S. president. But there have only been 42 presidents. Grover Cleveland is considered the 22nd and 24th president, as he was elected to non-consecutive terms in 1885 and 1893.

€ The tallest president was Abraham Lincoln, who measured in at 6 feet, 4 inches. James Madison was the shortest man to serve in the White House, at 5 feet, 4 inches.

€ George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 without winning the popular vote. This has happened three other times. In 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, but none of the four candidates that year received a majority of the Electoral College vote. The decision went to the House of Representatives, which controversially put John Quincy Adams in power. In 1876, Samuel J. Tilden won a majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote. But 20 Electoral College votes were in dispute. The issue went before a special electoral commission, which voted 8-7 to give the victory to Rutherford B. Hayes. Then in 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but by losing the heavily populated states of New York and Pennsylvania, he lost the Electoral College vote, and the presidency went to Benjamin Harrison.

€ James is the most popular first name of the presidents. Five presidents have had that name: James Madison, James Monroe, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, James Garfield and James (Jimmy) Carter.

€ William Henry Harrison was the first president to die in office. He died of pneumonia in 1841 after serving for just 31 days. His tenure was also the shortest of any president.

€ William Howard Taft served as president from 1809 to 1813. He later became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the only man to have headed both the executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

€ Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which he earned in 1906 for brokering a peace deal between warring Japan and Russia. Woodrow Wilson received the prize in 1919 for his attempt to create a peaceful planet following World War I. And the prize went to Jimmy Carter in 2002 to honor his various charitable actions throughout the world since he left the presidential office in 1980.