by John Steinberger | February 20, 2017 7:47 pm
The origin of Presidents’ Day began in 1885 as Washington’s Birthday, celebrated on Feb. 22. Schools would teach students about George Washington’s role as the Father of our country.
George Washington served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and against all odds negotiated the surrender of England in the Battle of Yorktown in 1783. In 1787, Washington presided over the Philadelphia Convention at which the U.S. Constitution was drafted and then ratified by the original states.
Washington unanimously won the electoral college in 1788 and 1792. While the vast majority of the American people wanted him to stay in office, Washington thought that a President who served more than two terms would be perceived as a King, which his Continental Army fought against.
Two of Washington’s core beliefs were that political parties (which he called factions) would divide the country and that America should not intervene in the European wars going on at the time. The first partisan election would come in 1796.
The 1796 Presidential election featured Vice President John Adams of Massachusetts (a Federalist) against Republican-Democrat Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Adams won a narrow electoral majority. At the time, the runner-up in a Presidential election became the Vice President.
The election of 1800 featured a rematch between President Adams and Vice President Jefferson. The election ended in an electoral tie and Jefferson became the only President in history elected by a vote of Congress. The deadlocked election led to the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, which called for the President and Vice President to be elected on a partisan ticket.
The Whig Party formed in the 1830s in response to Democrat Andrew Jackson’s expansion of executive power. While the Whigs elected four Presidents, the party dissolved after the 1856 election due to the absence of a platform.
The Republican Party emerged in the 1850s on the platform of abolishing slavery. Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President in 1860 without winning any Southern states. The Republicans had a long run in the White House before, during and after the Civil War. The post-war Reconstruction policies weakened the Democrats in the South.
Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Republican Herbert Hoover in 1932 during the height of the Great Depression. Hoover sharply increased taxes and government spending, policies which kept the Republicans in the minority for decades. Roosevelt got elected to four terms, breaking Washington’s precedent. He died near the conclusion of World War II. The unwelcome precedent of a four-term President led to the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which limited Presidents to two terms.
Let’s see more discussion of the Presidency on Presidents’ Day in schools and in the news media! We should also discuss the powers delegated to the President under Article II of the U.S. Constitution.
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