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February 05, 2004
by Steve Horvath, Young Adult Trainee, St. George Library Center
This month we celebrate Presidents' Day, a national holiday in which we honor the memory and accomplishments of our Presidents. There was a time when George Washington's (Feb. 22) and Abraham Lincoln's (Feb. 12) birthdays were both recognized as Federal Holidays. This changed in 1971 when President Nixon moved the national holiday to the third Monday of February, honoring all past Presidents.
The web site American Presidents: Life Portraits offers gravesite information and pictures, as well as streaming video from C-Span and the Life Portraits television series. These video clips are easily viewed from web links within each President's mini-bio. Everything from the President's birth, inaugural address, and death are included in the web site.
Another excellent site called The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden provides an in-depth Presidential timeline, information about how one becomes, lives and dies as a President of the United States.
In viewing the accomplishments of our past and present leader(s) it is important to remember that even our most celebrated Presidents did not escape controversy or criticism. Here are some of our best Presidents:
George Washington (1789-1797) led an ill-equipped and amateur army to victory over the most powerful military in the world at the time, England. He led our newly founded country as President, at a time when many called for him to be "king." Washington like many aristocrats of his time owned slaves.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) is often considered the greatest leader our country ever had. He maintained the Union by opposing southern secession, ended slavery and welcomed the Southern States back into the fold of American political and economic life. Though revered today, Lincoln was one of the most maligned and despised men in the country during his presidency and often bent the Constitution to meet the challenges of the Civil War.
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) guided our country during World War I. At the end of the war, Wilson led the creation of the League of Nations, an international association of countries that sought to maintain peace in the world and was a precursor to the United Nations. The League failed miserably, it allowed Hitler to rearm and annex a portion of Czechoslovakia in an attempt to prevent war with Nazi Germany. The League failed largely because of the United States' lack of involvement and the League's refusal to use forceful measures with Hitler.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) worked to lead our country out of the Great Depression with his New Deal and led our country to victory over the Axis powers in World War II. In 1941, FDR signed the Lend-Lease Act. It gave the President authority to send military aid to Great Britain, skirting the Neutrality Act of 1939 forbidding such military sales to warring nations. Many Americans, including Republican Senator Robert Taft, opposed the Act stating that it would "give the President power to carry on a kind of undeclared war all over the world, in which America would do everything except actually put soldiers in the front-line trenches where the fighting is."
Ronald Reagan (1980-1988) created 20 million new jobs during his presidency and helped end the Cold War, though we saw the National Debt surpass a trillion dollars for the first time in history.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001) united a fractured and divided Democratic Party with his ability to appeal to moderate and independent voters. He was a superb politician who oversaw the longest economic expansion in U.S. history while reducing the National Deficit. His presidency was plagued with numerous sex scandal allegations, one of which led to Congressional charges of impeachment.
American Presidents: Life Portraits http://www.americanpresidents.org/
The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden http://americanhistory.si.edu/presidency/home.html