Posted On 17 Feb 2020
The history of President’s Day 2020 dates back to the year 1800, following the death of President George Washington in 1799. His birthday on February 22 became a significant day of remembrance. At the time, Washington was recognised as the most important figure in American history.
While Washington’s Birthday was unofficially observed for most of the 1800s, it was not until the late 1870s that it became a federal holiday. Senator Steven Wallace Dorsey was the first to propose the measure, and in 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. The holiday originally only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was extended to the entire country.
At the time, Washington’s Birthday joined four other nationally recognized federal bank holidays—Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving—and was the first to celebrate the life of an individual American. Initially, President’s Day was called Washington’s Birthday. The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays.
While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labour unions and was seen as a fail proof way to strengthen retail sales.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s, which fell on the estimated date of February 12. Lincoln’s Birthday had long been a state holiday in places like Illinois, and many supported joining the two days as a way of giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous statesmen.
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971. Washington’s Birthday was then shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February.