Presidents Day: Honoring Our Great Presidents and Their Legacy

Presidents Day is a holiday meant to honor the Presidents who have led our great nation and to remember the values on which our country was founded. Happy Presidents Day!

The History of Presidents Day

There have been 46 Presidents of the United States, dating back to George Washington, who served as the first President from 1789 to 1797. Of those 46, four have direct ties to Illinois and can claim it as their home state. One President, Ronald Reagan, was born in Illinois and graduated from Eureka College before moving out of state to pursue a broadcasting career at age 21.

Illinois boasts three of the top 10 Presidents of all-time, including No. 1 Abraham Lincoln. Ranking the popularity of all the U.S. Presidents is not a simple task, but in 2021 C-SPAN conducted a Presidential Historians Survey that included the summation of ratings by close to 100 biographers and historians. Ten qualities of leadership were measured. Ronald Reagan (No. 9) and Barack Obama (No. 10) also made the top 10 list, while Ulysses Grant was at No. 20. labeled Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as “arguably the most-quoted, most-memorized piece of oratory in American history.” Lincoln, the 16th President, scored highest due to his pursued equal justice for all, vision, administrative skills, and crisis leadership. Reagan, the 40th President, was noted for his public persuasion and two major income tax cuts – the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. 

Obama, the 44th President, drew high praise for his pursuit of equal justice for all. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Grant, the 18th President, was lauded for his international relations skills and public persuasion. General Grant led the Union defeat of the Confederacy during the Civil War. 

Lincoln was born in Kentucky and came to Illinois with his family at the age of 21 in 1830. His travels in Illinois took him to Macon County and New Salem near Petersburg before his entrance into the political world brought him to the state capitol at the time, Vandalia, and then Springfield. Grant moved from Ohio to Galena in 1860, and nine years later he settled in for an eight-year term in the White House. 

Obama was born in Hawaii and came to Illinois two years after graduating from Columbia University. He took a grass-roots community organizer job in Chicago before moving on to become a state senator, U.S. Senator, and two-term President. Reagan was born in tiny Tampico before growing up in Dixon and graduating from Eureka College. 

Presidents’ Day is observed on the third Monday in February in the U.S. The holiday was first established in 1885 to observe Washington’s Birthday on February 22. Congress established the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, which promoted the idea of three-day weekends for the workforce and shifted holiday observances to Mondays. Washington’s Birthday soon moved to its new home on the third Monday of February, and now it was even closer in proximity to President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12.

Over the years and into the 1980s, the Washington’s Birthday holiday became known as “Presidents’ Day” and is now an observed national federal holiday. Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, and Presidents’ Day can all be recognized in different ways depending on which state you live in, with Illinois recognizing Lincoln’s Birthday as a state holiday.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

George Washington