5 Noteworthy Presidents Day Facts

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Presidents Day...

...is a bit of an unsolved mystery in the United States. Not only has it been bounced around the calendar a time or two (some legislation called for it to be nearer the original inauguration date... in March), but there is also some question as to whether the holiday is intended to honor all U.S. Presidents, the sitting U.S. President, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington alone.

Well, here are 5 facts to shed some light on the historical context of the holiday and offer a few fun bits of little-known information about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (since we celebrate their birthdays within a week of each other).

1. Federal Holiday

Presidents Day is not actually a federal holiday, but George Washington's birthday observance is. Initially entered into law in 1879, the observance fell on Washington's actual birthday, which is February 22. This was the situation for nearly 100 years . . .

Then, in 1971, the law was augmented so that the holiday now falls on the third Monday in February each year. Though many states call the holiday Presidents Day, some continue to call it by its still-official name, Washington's Birthday. Still others call it Washington's and Lincoln's Birthday... or one of at least 15 different variations on the theme.

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2. Self-Taught

Strangely, two of the more intellectually respected U.S. Presidents in our nation's history were largely self-taught. Washington's education unravelled early due to the untimely death of his father — his older brothers were both sent overseas to gain higher education. When his father died, the promise of a higher education was reduced to the equivalent of an elementary school education via a handful of tutors.

Lincoln was born in relative poverty, so he had no such promise of an education. Likewise, other than what he was able to glean on his own from voracious reading, he achieved only an elementary level education by any formal standards. Like Washington, Lincoln's education came by way of itinerant tutelage.

3. Entrepreneurial Spirit

It is well known that Washington was a successful businessman. Liquor distribution was counted among his many pursuits, as Washington produced rye whiskey, apple brandy, and peach brandy in his Mount Vernon distillery.

Slightly less well-known is that Lincoln also dabbled in business. In fact, Lincoln was a licensed bartender, co-owning the Berry and Lincoln saloon in Springfield, Illinois.

4. Tough-Guy Mentality

Of course, Washington's Revolutionary War reputation is legendary, but it is easy to say he was a heroic general and forget some of the atrocities he suffered through. To name a few, he survived a bout each of malaria, smallpox, pleurisy, and dysentery. Additionally, in one wartime instance, four bullets punctured his coat as his horse was shot down from underneath him. Naturally, he went on to win the war.

As with his history as a bartender, many people are also unaware of Lincoln's propensity for wrestling. So good was he, that it is estimated he was defeated only once in nearly 300 matches. He was entered into the Wrestling Hall of Fame, honored as an "Outstanding American."

5. Speaking Famously

Washington and Lincoln both delivered speeches that have achieved some level of immortality. Washington was known for his ability to boost morale and launch soldiers and the country forward into positive progress. Lincoln was known for his ability to reason, as demonstrated throughout the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and for his ability to use that reason to touch the hearts of all U.S. citizens.

The most pertinent speech to Presidents Day, however, is President George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address. The speech (which Washington did not deliver orally) is traditionally read in the U.S. Senate each year on Washington's birthday. This practice started in 1862, in an effort, fittingly, to boost morale during the Civil War.

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