In 1968 sentiment grew for a Uniform Monday Holiday Act that would move several national holidays from their specific dates to the nearest Monday, thereby reducing down-time for the economy and giving workers a series of three-day holidays. An early draft of the enabling bill would have renamed the Washington’s Birthday holiday “Presidents’ Day” to honor both Washington and Lincoln, whose birthday is on February 12 and has never been a national holiday.
The bill passed and was signed into law as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act on June 28 that year. George Washington’s birthday, February 22, was moved from that date to the third Monday of the month and remains officially, the George Washington’s Birthday Holiday. The term “Presidents’ Day” is not mentioned in the Act.
Before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, though, there was the President’s Day National Committee, a group that hoped to create an actual President’s Day (possessive, not plural) to honor the office of the president, not any particular president.
Even though today is not that day, it’s still a good time to reflect favorably on the highest office in the country. When the Founders fashioned the presidency, they created something quite new — a leader with sufficient power to execute the laws, but with no claim to power other than that which the people gave him by his election. They considered all options — consuls, triumvirates, administration by committee — and concluded that an energetic executive — unified, durable, adequately provided for and empowered — would best get the job done. Such an energetic executive was neither a king nor a dictator. After all, power from the people — and, crucially, the possibility of removal — was a far cry from the divine right of kings and an hereditary monarchy.
Anti-Federalists were still concerned that the office of the presidency was invested with too much power and, these days, many Americans are apt to agree. Under Obama’s administration, we’ve seen the expansion of the bureaucracy, legislation by executive order and the appointment of corrupt and incompetent individuals to important posts. It’s easy to feel discouraged and to think the Constitution surely could have provided more curbs to the growth of executive power. Abuses of the office, though, don’t diminish the genius of the office as it was constructed, from the manner of the president’s election by the electoral college to the length of the term he would serve. Instead, such abuses are an invitation to revisit the Founders’ original vision for the presidency and to seek to place someone in the office who will respect it and uphold his oath to defend the Constitution itself.