Presidents’ Day is the lamest holiday on the calendar. We should go back to the older practice of celebrating both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays as national holidays. Both of these men stand for something important in American life. Washington was the commander who ensured American independence, but he was also the presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention and established the pattern of constitutional governance that has guided us ever since. Lincoln saved the Constitution in the Civil War, but stood for the principles of the Declaration of Independence and, by abolishing slavery, brought them to life as never before. For generations, Washington’s Birthday was a day Americans reflected on the principles and example of the man to whom more than any other we owe our freedom and our system of government. On Lincoln’s Birthday, Americans reflected on the fiery trial of the Civil War, the abolition of slavery, and the extraordinary rise of a backwoods boy with no formal schooling whose greatness of spirit and accomplishments would astonish the world.
Presidents’ Day is a holiday about nobody; it teaches nothing; it has no purpose except to promote a vaguely monarchical celebration of generic heads of state. We have never needed civic education more than we do now; we have never stood in greater need of reflecting on and rededicating ourselves to our founding principles than today. A proper respect for the great figures in our past and a commitment to study their examples and to transmit their legacy to future generations needs to be one of our highest national priorities. The greatness of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln demands nothing less.