What is Presidents’ Day About Anyways?
Written by: Rob Pacienza, board member
Presidents Day’. It’s just another excuse for a three-day weekend, right? What exactly are we celebrating on this day?
The Father of America, George Washington, was born on February 22, 1732. Following his death in 1799, February 22 became an unofficial day to remember his life and legacy. However, in 1879, an Act of Congress made it a federal holiday for offices in the District of Columbia. Six years later in 1885, it was eventually expanded to include all federal offices. After celebrating Washington’s Birthday for almost a century, the Holiday Uniform Act of 1971 moved the day of remembrance to the third Monday in February, therefore granting the American worker a three-day weekend.
Throughout the years, this holiday has been unofficially renamed as Presidents’ Day. It now has become a day for many to recognize the birthday of Washington, the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln (born on February 12), and the Office of President in general.
It has been argued, and rightfully so, that Washington and Lincoln were the two greatest presidents in American history. Christians owe these two men a great deal of gratitude. Their firm support of religious liberty and freedom of conscience led to the greatness and uniqueness of our republic. Washington and Lincoln never envisioned a secular public square, but one that was heavily influenced by people of faith. The two presidents understood and publicly acknowledged the active, providential hand of God in all the affairs of our nation.
In his Farewell Address of 1796, Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He frequently encouraged a new nation to humbly seek the guidance and provision of the “great Lord and Ruler of Nations.” Washington ensured all Americans, regardless of their creed, that they would flourish in this land of religious freedom. His list of accomplishments is grand, but it is the one thing he refused to do that might be the greatest accomplishment of all – his refusal to be crowned as king. In a world that was enamored with the greatness of Kings and Queens, Washington exercised incredible humility and integrity. Even the title “His Excellency” made him far too uncomfortable. Washington was convicted that there was only one Sovereign in America and His throne resided in Heaven. This may be his most enduring legacy, truly worthy of remembrance.
As for Lincoln, his reliance on the Word of God would shape his challenging yet monumental presidency. His faith guided his convictions to fight for the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. In his second address, speaking to a war-wearied people, Lincoln delivered these powerful words: “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” The last portion of his quote is taken directly from Psalm 19. Lincoln believed that the only hope for a nation ravaged by a civil war would be God alone granting us a “new birth of freedom.”
On this Presidents’ Day let’s take a moment to thank God for the lives of these two presidents in particular. They were providentially used to establish not a perfect union, but a more perfect union where freedom and flourishing abound. A nation that under the Hand of Providence, would enjoy the free exercise of religion in private and in public.
We should also use this day to pray for our current president. As people who believe in the doctrine of sovereignty, we affirm that our infallible God appoints fallible leaders. These are leaders who need to be lifted up before the throne of grace to receive a wisdom that is above the sun. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French diplomat and historian, toured our nation in the 19th century on a quest to discover the greatness of America. He concluded that the greatness was not found in Washington, D.C., but instead in the houses of worship all across our land. Pray that our president would follow in the footsteps of the great men who went before him, preserving the religious liberty that has always been a hallmark of America. This is the enduring legacy of both Washington and Lincoln. It should be the cause of great celebration this Presidents’ Day.