By Brian Wheeler
Utah schools will not hold classes Monday in honor of Washington and Lincoln Day, the state?s official designation of the federal holiday popularly known as President?s Day.
Despite the misconception, Monday?s holiday is not President?s Day. Neither the Utah state government nor the United States federal government recognizes the third Monday in February as President?s Day. Instead, the federal government designates the holiday as Washington?s Birthday.
Individual states have the prerogative to adopt which federal holidays they will and may call them what they want. All states have their own statutes designating the legal holidays for that state.
The country first celebrated George Washington?s birthday in 1796 while he was still serving as President of the United States. In 1885, President Chester Arthur officially made Washington?s Birthday a federal holiday.
One year following Abraham Lincoln?s 1865 assassination, a joint session of Congress gathered to honor Lincoln in a memorial service in the U.S. House of Representatives? chamber of the U.S. Capitol creating an annual tradition of honoring President Lincoln. While Lincoln?s birthday never became a federal holiday, the vast majority of states adopted it as a legal holiday.
In 1968 congressional members proposed the Uniform Holidays Bill which sought to combine Lincoln?s Feb. 12 birthday and Washington?s Feb. 22 birthday into one holiday, President?s Day, to be celebrated on the third Monday in February. Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act in the same calendar year. The legislation failed to combine the two holidays and instead simply moved Washington?s birthday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February.
When the Mondays Holiday Act took affect in 1971, President Richard Nixon publicly challenged Congress? decision not to honor Lincoln along with Washington. He declared the third Monday in February to be President?s Day; a day to commemorate all past presidents of the United States. While Nixon?s proclamation has stuck in the public?s conscience, legal precedent has determined that a presidential proclamation does not carry the same authority as an Executive Order.
California is one of only 12 states that observe the third Monday in February as President?s Day.
?Governor Schwarzenegger honors the traditions of the great state of California,? said Margita Thompson, the California gubernatorial press secretary. ?He hasn?t changed any of the legal holidays. We?ll uphold what stands.?
Utah and Colorado, among others, honor both Washington and Lincoln in the name of the holiday. Some states still observe Lincoln?s Birthday and Washington?s Birthday separately.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law legislation that created Martin Luther King, Jr.?s Birthday as a federal holiday. It was quickly adopted by the majority of states, however at the expense of Lincoln?s birthday. Many states dropped Lincoln?s Birthday as a holiday upon the new adoption in order to maintain the same number of paid holidays.
While Utah commemorates all three men in two holidays, George Washington?s home state of Virginia only memorializes Washington and Dr. King. Conversely, Lincoln?s home state of Illinois observes the birthdays of all three men distinctly.
Senator Denny Jacobs, democratic state senator from Illinois? 36th district, said his state will always honor the memory of Lincoln on Feb. 12.
?Abraham Lincoln was a true patriot and we are all indebted to his dedication to the Union,? Jacobs said. ?Lincoln is a mountain of an icon here and always will be.?
He said Illinois will invariably observe Lincoln?s birthday even if it means having an extra paid holiday on their calendar.
No matter what the federal government or the various state governments call Monday?s holiday, enjoy the day off and honor the memory of the many patriots who have made liberty a reality.
No classes held Monday, Feb. 21
Tuesday, Feb. 22, will be Monday class schedule