Let’s Celebrate President’s Day!

Presidents’ Day is a federal holiday that we celebrate on the third Monday in February. The event was first established in 1885 in recognition of the birthday of President George Washington on February 22nd. However, the holiday became popularly known as “Presidents’ Day” after it was made part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This was a move to create more three-day weekends for the country’s workers.

Several states continue to have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others. For example, Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, and New York specifically recognize the third Monday in February as “Washington’s Birthday” or “George Washington Day.” And the Commonwealth of Virginia celebrates Washington’s birthday for the entire month of February.

Lincoln’s birthday is observed as its own holiday in Kentucky, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, California, Missouri, and New York.

But now Presidents’ Day is seen as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents——past and present. Here’s a look at three of our country’s most famous presidents.

George Washington

George Washington is frequently said to be the “Father of His Country.”

Washington was an American general and commander in chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution, and of course, the first president of the United States. He also presided over the convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution.

Washington made a long-standing impression on the political process in the United States, especially through his formation of a cabinet. Every president since Washington has worked with the counsel of a cabinet, and each president has designed their own decision-making process.

Moreover, Washington’s decision to step away from power solidified his legacy and had a powerful effect on the future of the presidency. He recognized the structural importance of leaving office willingly, understanding that Americans would need to appreciate how to elect, transition, and inaugurate a new president. This was a process full of potential issues, and Washington believed that this would be a more seamless process if it were planned, rather than haphazardly done after an unexpected death.

The swearing-in ceremony permits the peaceful transfer of power from one President to the next and formally gives the “power of the people” to the individual who has been chosen to lead the country. Washington knew the extent to which the political process is based on norm and custom, and that this began with his example.

Abraham Lincoln

In 1982, the Chicago Tribune asked 49 historians and political scientists to rank all the U.S. Presidents through Jimmy Carter in five categories:

  • Leadership qualities;
  • Accomplishments/crisis management;
  • Political skills;
  • Appointments; and
  • Character/integrity.

First on the list was Abraham Lincoln.

Our 16th President was tasked with dealing with the South’s secession and the potential dissolution of the Union. He used all the political might and practical tools at his disposal to defeat the Confederacy and restore the United States.

His skills as a practical politician were exceptional. He handled the competing interests of his constituencies—— the army, Congress, foreign countries, and the ordinary American citizens he was asked to represent.

Most significantly, Lincoln was an extremely skillful politician and one who was often underestimated by both his friends and opponents.

Lincoln used the power of the president to address his evolving war aims. This significantly expanded the power of the executive in American politics and created a template on which later presidents would build. He successfully waged a political struggle and civil war that preserved the Union, put an end to slavery, and created the possibility of civil and social freedom for African-Americans.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or “FDR” as he was known, served as President from March 1933 to April 1945. This was the longest tenure in American history. FDR may have accomplished more during those 12 years to change American society and politics than any of his predecessors in the White House, except for Abraham Lincoln.

The country elected Roosevelt President because they thought he could fight the Depression better than his Republican opponent, President Herbert Hoover. FDR said he would introduce a “new deal,” which he undoubtedly delivered. By implementing a number of innovative policies, he was able to pull the United States away from the brink of economic, social, and perhaps even political, disaster.

The New Deal stabilized the banks and resolved the financial mess created by the Stock Market crash, allowing credit to flow again.  It stabilized farm prices, aided state and local governments, and injected a surge of federal spending into the economy that strengthened household incomes and business revenues. The New Deal created the foundation for future stability and prosperity.

In addition to guiding the country in World War II, Roosevelt also reshaped the American presidency. With his popular “fireside chats,” FDR spoke to the American people via the new technology of radio. He forged a bond between the public and himself. This did much to shape the image of the President as the caretaker of the American people.

Under his leadership, the President’s duties grew to include not only those of the chief executive as the implementer of policy—but also chief legislator as the drafter of policy. And in attempting to write new laws, FDR required a White House staff and group of advisers not seen before in DC. He required a full-time staff devoted to domestic and foreign policies, with expertise in these areas, and a passion for governance. And with the Executive Reorganization Act in 1939, FDR changed the shape of the White House forever. This law gave the President the authority to devise a plan to reorganize the Executive role. As part of this “Plan No. 1,” he created a new Cabinet agency, the Federal Security Agency, and placed the Social Security Board under its jurisdiction.

Happy President’s Day – and Fennemore is thankful to all of the dynamic leaders who have helped to shape our country!

For more information about our Government Relations and Regulatory practice group that serves clients at all levels of state, country and municipal government, as well as numerous federal agencies, please visit: https://www.fennemorelaw.com/services/practices/government-relations-and-regulatory-law/