Happy Birthday George, Abe, Ronnie, and You Too, William
Here we go again, it’s February and we have a national holiday on our calendars marked “Presidents Day.” But even though everyone today calls it Presidents Day, it’s not officially Presidents Day. It is still known as George Washington’s Birthday, according to the federal government and section 6103(a) of title 5 of the U.S. Code. So this year, don’t say “Happy Presidents Day,” say “Happy Washington’s Birthday,” instead. You’ll be one of the few people that know this is the correct celebration, and gosh, won’t you feel superior?
So then tell me, Greg, why does everyone say Presidents Day? Listen, don’t bother me with these stupid questions; I have better things to do. Like wish a few other United States presidents a happy birthday this month.
The other main birthday boy for February is, of course, Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe was born on Feb. 12 and most people are very aware of the man’s life and achievements as our 16th president. Even those who cannot or will not read a book know about him from the big Spielberg movie last year. His story is legendary, heroic, and classic which is why there have been more books written on Lincoln than on any other American president.
Feb. 6 of this year would have been Ronald Reagan’s 103rd birthday. He was our 40th president serving from 1981 through 1989. Known as The Great Communicator, Reagan’s major accomplishments include the following:
Reagan’s military buildup and competition with the Soviet Union not only kept America safe but also, in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase, won the Cold War without firing a shot.
Domestically, he persuaded Congress to pass an economic recovery program — centered on cutting marginal tax rates — that sparked an unprecedented period of peacetime prosperity.
And just as important, Reagan lifted the country out of a great psychological depression induced by the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and sustained by the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Jimmy Carter malaise. He did so by appealing to the best in the American character. With President Reagan it was “morning again in America.”
In Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address he famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.” Thinking about all that has transpired with the Obama’s healthcare fiasco, the IRS bullying of conservative groups, and the government spying programs, the Reagan quote has never rung truer.
Now let’s move on to the Rodney Dangerfield of presidential birthdays this month, that of William Henry Harrison, certainly the one president who gets no respect. Harrison was born Feb. 9, 1773, and died at age 68 on April 4, 1841 — exactly one month after he was sworn in as the ninth president of the United States. Harrison has made presidential history since he holds the record as the president with the shortest tenure in office.
Harrison was born to a politically active family with five generations previous to him serving in political office. His father, Benjamin Harrison V was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. William’s son John would be the father of the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison. A very political family indeed.
William Henry Harrison served heroically in the Indian Wars and served as a Major General in the War of 1812. After the War of 1812, he was elected US Representative (1816-19) and then State Senator (1819-21). From 1825-8, he served as a US Senator. He was sent as US Minister to Columbia from 1828-9.
Harrison had unsuccessfully run for President in 1836 but was nominated again in 1840 with John Tyler as his Vice President. He was supported by President Martin Van Buren. This election is considered to be the first modern campaign to use advertising in a major way. Harrison had gained the nickname “Old Tippecanoe” and he ran under the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” He won the election with 234 out of 294 electoral votes.
Ironically, in addition to having the distinction of being the president with the shortest time served, Harrison also holds the record as giving the longest inaugural address ever, lasting an hour and 40 minutes. The longwinded speech is what killed him, actually. He delivered it in the cold during the month of March. He then got caught in the rain and in the end came down with a cold. His illness got worse until he finally died on April 4, 1841. The moral of the story, I guess, is if you plan to bloviate, do it inside where it’s warm.
Happy birthday to all four of our February presidents.