Op-Ed: Presidents Day provides opportunity for nuanced reflection on nation’s leaders


Photo credit: Kristin Taylor

Washington, Lincoln and Jackson are three of the presidents featured on US currency. Presidents Day is a time to consider the complex legacy of past presidents.

By Avery Fox, Staff Reporter

In the week leading up to Presidents Day, I heard multiple people commenting on how excited they were to get a three day weekend in the middle of February because of Presidents Day. Ready to sleep in, go skiing or hang out with their friends, most didn’t think twice about why this federal holiday is significant enough to receive a day off.

Presidents Day, which is the third Monday of February because of George Washington’s birthday, is supposed to honor presidents of the United States.

However, while over half of the states celebrate the holiday, a good number of people do not celebrate and acknowledge the day’s importance. Thirteen states, most of which are on the East Coast, do not celebrate Presidents Day or any variation of the holiday. A survey conducted by email analytics firm Yesware revealed that workers opened and replied to more emails on Presidents Day than any other federal holiday.

Interviews conducted by the Associated Press show Presidents Day has mixed importance around the country, especially given the current political climate. Some disregard the holiday, but others try to honor to admire our presidents.

Not everything our presidents did was admirable. While Presidents Day attempts to glorify the leaders of the United States and all the good that has come out of their presidencies, this approach has failed to view each president through an objective lens.

Take George Washington, for example. Most know him as the first president who led the colonies to victory over Britain in the American Revolution. But he was also a slave owner. In fact, 12 presidents had slaves, eight of whom held enslaved people during their presidency. While President Abraham Lincoln is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in history for winning the Civil War, he freed slaves merely to save the Union, not because he believed that African Americans were equals.

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that,” he said in the Emancipation Proclamation.

So why should we celebrate our presidents without taking this into account?

While Presidents Day should be an acknowledged holiday, everyone should accept both the triumphs and flaws of our nation’s presidents while doing so. Our presidents have taken admirable steps to strengthen the country, but at the same time, their legacies live under the shadow of their mistakes.

During the weekend of Presidents Day, freeways, streets and airports are congested with people concerned about taking a short vacation. Three-day weekends are supposed to be a relaxing time to decompress; however, it only takes a minute to acknowledge that our lives would be different if not for both the good and bad choices made by presidents.

President Andrew Jackson said, “Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.”

Jackson says that we have to recognize the good and the bad in ourselves in order to become better people. If this is the case, then shouldn’t we also do this with presidents too? After all, no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws.

Thus, schools should teach the importance of Presidents Day to students. It should be done in a manner that looks at both sides. acknowledging the nuances of the past. As a result of the celebratory nature of holidays such as Presidents Day, it is easy to overlook the negative actions of those we are honoring. But it is important that we celebrate this day despite presidential flaws because otherwise, we are ignoring an important part of history.