Presidents Day 2013

This Presidents Day holiday has taken on a peculiar kind of piquancy, particularly if your taste runs to passionate politics.

Presidents Day came about because two U.S. presidents who raised passions for different reasons had birth dates close together. George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in use at the time. The new Gregorian calendar was adopted by England in 1752. On this calendar, the one we use today, Washington’s birth date was Feb. 22.

As the result of his leading the 13 Colonies to victory in the Revolutionary War and subsequent independence from England, Washington was so loved that he had to actively fight down an attempt to make him a king rather than the first elected president of the United States of America.

Abraham Lincoln, the president during the American Civil War, also aroused great passions. He was born on Feb. 12, 1809. Although venerated by most Americans in subsequent years, Lincoln was also a president who aroused as much animosity as love during a lifetime cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

Until 1971, Lincoln’s and Washington’s birth dates were celebrated separately. Beginning in 1971, the third Monday of each February has been celebrated as Presidents Day, honoring Washington, Lincoln and all the other presidents.

On this third Monday of February 2013, Hawaii has just undergone a sweeping change in its political leadership. Gone are the U.S. senators who between them had over three-quarters of a century experience – and seniority – in that august body. There is also a new member of Congress, a new speaker of our state House, and a new president of the state Senate.

All these changes took place peacefully, through elections and legal appointments. The appointees will eventually face ratification or rejection through our election process.

All of this democracy in action is due, in no small part, to the two presidents whose birthdays we celebrate today. One of them helped give birth to this great democracy, the other preserved it.

It is fitting to pause this day to remember these two great Americans who made the peaceful transitions of democracy a reality in this nation.

(Portions of this editorial have appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.