Constable: Unlike dogs, not every president should have a day
Festive Americans celebrated Monday's Presidents Day holiday in traditional style -- by forgoing mail service and saving up to 50% on best-selling, brand-name mattresses.
Our nation's worst holiday, Presidents Day has created this notion of honoring all past and present presidents, whether they deserve it or not. It also leads to annual rankings of the presidents, from smartest (debatable) to dumbest (a bit less debatable), tallest (6-foot-4 Abe Lincoln) to shortest (5-foot-4 James Madison), and least-impeached (43-way tie for first) to most-impeached (Donald J. Trump).
A new poll from YouGov and The Economist proclaimed 44th President Barack Obama as the best president, beating out his fellow Illinoisan and 16th President Abe Lincoln. That poll declared 45th President Donald Trump third best -- as well as the worst, in a separate question where Obama was a distant second. It seems people in that poll vote with their political hearts instead of their heads.
A more scholarly poll of historians, political scientists and presidential scholars by the Siena College Research Institute ranked George Washington, our first president, as No. 1, followed by Franklin Roosevelt, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson, with Obama checking in at 17th. The lowest-ranked president, Andrew Johnson, finished behind James Buchanan, Trump, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce. That poll was released in 2018, so the next poll might show different results.
The roots of Presidents Day, meant to honor Washington's birthday, are very confusing. Washington was born on Feb. 22, 1732, according to the Gregorian calendar we use today. But the website for George Washington's MountVernon.org notes that he was born on Feb. 11, 1731, according to the Julian calendar that the colonies used until 1752.
In 1879, Congress and President Rutherford B. Hayes made Feb. 22 a holiday in the District of Columbia honoring Washington's Birthday, and that became a federal holiday across the nation under President Grover Cleveland in 1885.
U.S. Rep. Robert McClory, a Lake Bluff resident who represented parts of Lake County, sponsored the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect in 1971 and moved the holiday to the third Monday of February, where it is still listed on the official federal holiday calendar as Washington's Birthday.
But public opinion figures it's a combination of the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, born on Feb. 12, 1809, and that morphed into the generic holiday that now is known as Presidents Day, which is generally regarded as a way to honor every president. This irks the folks at George Washington's Mount Vernon, who don't see why the Father of our Country has to share a holiday with Chester Arthur, Millard Fillmore and Benjamin Harrison.
Of course, many people don't like the idea of honoring Washington or any of the Founding Fathers who enslaved people. Lincoln also has been criticized for his comments about the differences between whites and Blacks.
A year ago, I wrote a column suggesting we make the Monday after the Super Bowl a federal holiday honoring suffragette Alice Paul, who wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. Given the flap about the flaws of our presidents, I am now worried that as soon as we declare an Alice Paul holiday, someone will uncover one of her letters revealing a 20th Century opinion we no longer can tolerate.
So let's just get rid of Presidents Day, and create a new holiday to honor the contributions of all American women. Either that, or acknowledge the mattress sales and name the holiday in honor of Daniel Haynes, who started making cotton-filled mattresses in 1899 in the Texas town of Sealy.