What to Know About Presidents Day

Why do we have a holiday to commemorate the presidents (even the bad ones?) – or is it only to honor a few? Here’s what to know –


For many, Presidents Day means a day off school or work and a time to take advantage of holiday-themed sales. Why do we have a holiday to commemorate the presidents (even the bad ones?) – or is it only to honor a few? Here’s what to know –

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law in 1968 making Presidents Day the third Monday of every February. Presidents Day succeeded the previous holiday known as Washington’s Birthday, which was first officially celebrated nationwide in 1885.
  • Officially, the holiday is not meant to honor all presidents, which would include mediocrities like James Buchanan and the monthlong tenure of William Henry Harrison.
  • The Uniform Holiday Bill set the date in mid-February specifically to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born in February.
  • A new ranking of presidents by a group calling itself the 2024 Presidential Greatness Project called Lincoln the greatest US president.
  • The 154 self-described experts who responded to the survey ranked former President Donald Trump dead last (#45), worse than Buchanan (#44), Harrison (#41), Andrew Johnson (#43), and other Civil War-era failures.
  • The survey placed Barack Obama in the top ten (#7) and ranked Bill Clinton (#12) and Joe Biden (#14) over Ronald Reagan (#16), who the self-identified conservative experts ranked fifth.
  • George W. Bush came in at 32nd, far below where conservatives rated him 19th). Trump’s rating from conservative experts – 41st – was not far off his overall rating.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • “The transformation of Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day seems to have hollowed out the holiday’s meaning altogether, making it synonymous more with mattress sales than with the 45 men who happened to have served, well or poorly, as the nation’s chief executive over the last 235 years,” writes Virginia Heffernan for the Los Angeles Times. “But even allowing for Apostrophe Confusion Syndrome — which dogs many holidays — we’re really mostly talking about the big guy. And it’s not Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce or John Tyler. It’s not whoever you’re voting for in November. It’s Washington.”
  • Like the other Founding Fathers, George Washington was uneasy about the idea of publicly celebrating his life. He was the first leader of a new republic — not a tyrant. And yet the nation will once again commemorate the first U.S. president on Monday, 292 years after he was born,” Time observed. “The meaning of Presidents Day has changed dramatically, from being mostly unremarkable and filled with work for Washington in the 1700s to the consumerism bonanza it has become today.”
  • The Washington Post covered a little-known link between President Joe Biden and Abraham Lincoln. In 1864, then-President Lincoln pardoned Moses J. Robinette for convictions he received for fighting a fellow civilian employee of the Union Army. Robinette, a businessman and surgeon from Delaware, was Biden’s great-great-grandfather.



  • “What makes a president great?” asked Fox News’ Bret Baier as he assessed the leadership qualities of the top five presidents according to a 2021 C-SPAN survey of 142 historians. Baier examines what the leadership skills of each of the five – Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower – can teach Americans today.
  • “It’s not Presidents’ Day,” argues National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru. “The federal holiday marked today observes George Washington’s birthday,” writes Ponnuru. “What the State Department instead says is: ‘Increasingly, the holiday has become an occasion to celebrate the birthdays of both President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln.’ And: ‘the federal holiday officially remains Washington’s Birthday.’ It would be weird to have a holiday celebrating Franklin Pierce and Rutherford B. Hayes. It’s a good thing we don’t have one.
  • Marketwatch covered how Presidents Day affects businesses and government offices. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq are both closed on Presidents Day. Most banks are closed, as is the post office.

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© Dominic Moore, 2023