While most of us are just excited about the long weekend, President’s Day celebrates an important part of our government and history.
The origin of Presidents’ Day lies in the 1880s, when the birthday of George Washington was first celebrated as a federal holiday. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which moved a number of federal holidays to Mondays in order to give workers a number of long weekends throughout the year.
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During debate on the bill, it was proposed that Washington’s Birthday be renamed Presidents’ Day to honor the birthdays of both Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February12). After the bill went into effect in 1971, Presidents’ Day became the commonly accepted name, due in part to retailers’ use of that name to promote sales and the holiday’s proximity to Lincoln’s birthday.
In honor of President’s Day, here are some fun facts about our Commanders-in-Chief:
Barack Obama is our 44th president, but there actually have only been 43 presidents: Cleveland was elected for two nonconsecutive terms and is counted twice, as our 22nd and 24th president.
Eight Presidents were born British subjects: Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J. Q. Adams, Jackson, and W. Harrison.
Nine Presidents never attended college: Washington, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, Fillmore, Lincoln, A. Johnson, Cleveland, and Truman. The college that has the most presidents as alumni (seven in total) is Harvard: J. Adams, J. Q. Adams, T. Roosevelt, F. Roosevelt, Kennedy, G. W. Bush (business school), and Barack Obama (law school). Yale is a close second, with five presidents as alumni: Taft, Ford (law school), G.H.W. Bush, Clinton (law school), and G. W. Bush.
Presidents who would be considered “Washington outsiders” (i.e., the 18 presidents who never served in Congress) are: Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Taylor, Grant, Arthur, Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, F. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and G. W. Bush.
The most common religious affiliation among presidents has been Episcopalian, followed by Presbyterian.
The ancestry of 42 presidents is limited to the following seven heritages, or some combination thereof: Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Swiss, or German.
Barack Obama is the first African American to be elected president of the United States. He was also born in Hawaii, making him the first president not born in the continental United States.
The oldest elected president was Reagan (age 69); the youngest was Kennedy (age 43). Theodore Roosevelt, however, was the youngest man to become president—he was 42 when he succeeded McKinley, who had been assassinated. The oldest living former president was Gerald Ford, who was born on July 14, 1913, and died on Dec.27, 2006, at age 93. The second oldest was Ronald Reagan, who also lived to be 93 years.
The tallest president was Lincoln at 6’4″; at 5’4″, Madison was the shortest.
Eight left-handed presidents: James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Fourteen Presidents served as vice presidents: J. Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Nixon, L. Johnson, Ford, and George H.W. Bush.
Vice Presidents were originally the presidential candidates receiving the second-largest number of electoral votes. The Twelfth Amendment, passed in 1804, changed the system so that the electoral college voted separately for president and vice president. The presidential candidate, however, gradually gained power over the nominating convention to choose his own running mate.
For two years, the nation was run by a president and a vice president who were not elected by the people. After Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in 1973, President Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as vice president. Nixon resigned the following year, which left Ford as president, and Ford’s appointed vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, as second in line.
Four candidates won the popular vote but lost the presidency: Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but lost the election to John Quincy Adams (1824); Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election to Rutherford B. Hayes (1876); Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the election to Benjamin Harrison (1888); Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George W. Bush (2000).
The term “First Lady” was first used in 1877 in reference to Lucy Ware Webb Hayes. Most First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, are said to have hated the label.
James Buchanan was the only president never to marry. Five presidents remarried after the death of their first wives—two of whom, Tyler and Wilson, remarried while in the White House. Reagan was the only divorced president. Six presidents had no children. Tyler—father of fifteen—had the most.
Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated in office.
Assassination attempts were made on the lives of Jackson, T. Roosevelt, F. Roosevelt, Truman, Ford, and Reagan.
Eight Presidents died in office: W. Harrison (after having served only one month), Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, F. Roosevelt, and Kennedy.
Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on the 4th of July; Coolidge was born on that day.
Kennedy and Taft are the only presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lincoln, Jefferson, F. Roosevelt, Washington, Kennedy, and Eisenhower are portrayed on U.S. coins. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson, Grant, McKinley, Cleveland, Madison, and Wilson are portrayed on U.S. paper currency.
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