Editor’s note: This editorial originally ran on Feb. 21, 2011. It runs again today in honor of Presidents Day.
Today is Presidents’ Day, officially celebrated each year since 1971 on the third Monday of February.
It’s sad to see a holiday created to honor the legacy of our nation’s highest executives turned into a time for merchants to have sales. But at least the day off for many workers gives them time to reflect.
The two men most directly related to the holiday were born in February: Our first president, George Washington, on Feb. 22, 1732, and 16th President Abraham Lincoln, on Feb. 12, 1809.
While these were possibly two of our most influential and memorable leaders, on this holiday we also should take time to look back upon all those who have led our country.
Here are some interesting tidbits about our presidents, who should be remembered not only for the decisions they made but also the times during which they lived and worked.
• Washington was the first and only president without a party. He never ran under or represented any sort of political affiliation. He also was the only commander in chief unanimously elected to lead, which he did from 1789 to 1797.
• John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in 1826.
• Eighth President Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the United States. Previous presidents were born in colonies that became states. He was the first to be born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
• In addition to being honest — often through crude jokes and sarcasm — Lincoln was not what you would call a born leader. He attempted many careers, with little success, before becoming president. Before taking office in 1860, he tried — and failed — to succeed as a storekeeper, farmer, land officer, lawyer, U.S. senator, vice presidential candidate and speaker of the Illinois state legislature.
• Grover Cleveland had a series of firsts: First and only president to serve non-consecutive terms (from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897), first and only to be married in a White House ceremony and first to have a child born in the executive mansion.
• Thirty-ninth President Jimmy Carter studied nuclear physics at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and was a speed reader, having been recorded reading 2,000 words per minute.
As Americans, it can only improve our appreciation for the rights and privileges we sometimes take for granted by learning about the lives and deeds of our leaders. Too often, we fail to see the important lessons presented to us by the past.
And while we may build statues and monuments to past presidents, we must keep in mind that they, too, were mere mortals who make mistakes. These, too, we can learn from.