By William P. O’Donnell, Norfolk County Register of Deeds
For me and many of the residents of Norfolk County, President’s Day has always held a special significance. Yes, it is a day off for some, but it is also a day to reflect on what a special form of government the United States of America has. People may not know that four of the forty-six Presidents of the United States were born right here in Norfolk County, more than any other county in the United States.
Despite this day holding significance for so many, very few actually know the origins of the holiday and why President’s Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February.
President’s Day was originally established in 1885 to recognize the accomplishments of and memorialize the first President of the United States, George Washington. The concept of a day celebrating a President dates back to 1800, the year following the death of Washington, whose February 22nd birthday became an annual day of remembrance.
The unofficial holiday gained widespread popularity, particularly because, even at that time, George Washington was considered a legend. So, in 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed legislation to make February 22nd a federal holiday, but it took another six years to be celebrated nationally.
Delving deeper into the history of this day reveals that even though most people know the federal holiday as President’s Day, neither Congress nor any President has ever specified that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.”
If the official name of the holiday is “Washington’s Birthday,” why is it not still held on February 22nd, George Washington’s birthday? It is because in 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays. By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to stimulate the economy and give workers more time off.
This law changed two aspects of the holiday; first, it was adapted to also honor the birth of United States President Abraham Lincoln (February 12), and second, it was moved to be observed between both birthdays on the third Monday in February.
This position on the February calendar actually makes it so the celebration of Washington’s birthday will never actually be held on the 22nd; the latest it can be is the 21st. In fact, of the four Presidents with February birthdays, George Washington (the 22nd), Abraham Lincoln (the 12th), William Henry Harrison (the 9th), and Ronald Reagan (the 6th), none have birthdays that can coincide with the holiday.
Why is the federal holiday celebrating Washington’s birthday known as Presidents’ Days? The answer is that, regardless of its noble origins, the holiday has been redefined, as it was in 1885, from a day of remembrance to a day of celebration. For many, the day has become a time to honor all Presidents, past and present.
|Happy George Washington’s Birthday|
The second President John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in a section of Quincy that was formerly part of Braintree. Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. He taught grammar school in Worcester, and in 1758 he moved back to Braintree and began practicing law in nearby Boston. The 1780 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted by Adams, is the world’s oldest functioning written constitution. It served as a model for the United States Constitution, which was written in 1787.
The sixth President, John Quincy Adams, was also born in a part of Quincy that was split off from Braintree. He attended Harvard College and was the son of John and Abigail Adams. He served as a diplomat, foreign minister, ambassador to foreign nations, and treaty negotiator. John Quincy Adams drafted the Monroe Doctrine. He was one of the greatest diplomats and Secretaries of State in American history. He became President in the 1824 election, defeating Andrew Jackson. Following his four-year term, Adams became a member of the House of Representatives, where he conducted a consistent and dramatic fight against the expansion of slavery.
The thirty-fifth President, John F. Kennedy, was born on May 29, 1917, at 83 Beals Street, Brookline, a three-story house built in 1909, located in a middle-class neighborhood. He graduated from Harvard University in 1940. During World War II, Kennedy was a PT boat commander in the Pacific theater. After the war, Kennedy represented the 11th Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives. He then won election to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. While serving in the Senate, he published “Profiles in Courage,” which won the Pulitzer Prize.
What is not common knowledge is that the forty-first President, George Herbert Walker Bush, was born in Norfolk County on June 12, 1924, at 173 Adams Street, Milton. Bush spent only the first year of his life in Milton. In 1925, his parents, Prescott Bush (a Connecticut senator from 1952 to 1963) and Dorothy Walker Bush, moved the family to Connecticut. The home at 173 Adams Street has changed hands several times since the Bush family lived there and remains a private residence to this day. In 1997, at a ceremony attended by the former President, a sign and plaque were unveiled outside the home to mark its historic significance.
Let us take a moment to honor and celebrate President George Washington and all Presidents of The United States who have represented this great nation. We should also take a moment to remember the exceptional men and women who have helped shape the nation that these Presidents have been elected to represent, however you choose to commemorate this day.