Presidents Day

Teutopolis Grade School students created some art in honor of Presidents’ Day, including Abe Lincoln heads. They also did a tribute to George Washington.

By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

A group of Teutopolis Grade School students know a lot about the reason why their school will be closed this coming Monday.

They know the federal holiday called Presidents’ Day is linked to the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. It was originally celebrated in 1885 to honor President George Washington, whose birthday was on Feb. 22, 1732. Lincoln’s Birthdate was Feb. 12, 1809.

In 1971, these two holidays were combined through the 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday Act to allow for more three-day weekends for American workers. Presidents’ Day is considered a day to celebrate all United States Presidents.

Before 1971, Washington’s Birthday was widely observed across the country. But Lincoln’s birthdate was not very popular in the South. For varied reasons, Lincoln is not as revered north of the Mason-Dixon Line, except in Kentucky, the state where he was born.

But in Illinois, the federal holiday now centers on Lincoln, an Illinois resident when he became President, and Washington, who was our first president after the U.S. Constitution was accepted by the states.

There is a great deal of study and admiration at TGS for both presidents. And it has to do with more than just getting a day off from school.

“Abraham Lincoln ended slavery,” said Kacie Habing, a Teutopolis fifth grader, when asked about what she admired about the 16th president who made the first official move to end slavery. “The Emancipation Proclamation helped end slavery forever.”

Anna Probst, a fourth grader, agreed, but added that Lincoln’s work in the White House during the Civil War “started what would end slavery” in America.

“They had a big part in shaping American in how it is today,” said Joey Niebrugge, a TGS sixth grader.

Some historians consider both men vital to American history. Without Washington’s leadership during the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention and afterward, many claim our democratic government could have failed and sunk into chaos. Respect for Washington helped unify the nation during its first years.

Lincoln’s determination for reuniting the country during the Civil War helped keep the Union effort focused toward final victory. Without him, our country might have been split in two for generations afterward. Worse yet, slavery might have survived for years past that war if it had ended with the Confederacy victorious or intact.

“They helped win the wars,” said second-grader Jackson Meyer proudly when asked what he liked about the two presidents.

The students recited many facts on both presidents, demonstrating how their teachers shared knowledge on American history. Some of the facts seem to cling to young minds more than others.

Second-grader Tommy Habing recalled how Washington’s soldiers were starving and freezing during the Continental Army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.

“And they didn’t have any shoes,” he said.

Oliver Lee, a fifth grader, noted the sad irony of the night Lincoln was assassinated.

“It came days after the war ended,” he said.

Malea Helmink, a Teutopolis fourth grader, furthered her education on Lincoln when her family visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. For a city chock full of Lincoln landmarks, the new museum has drawn many scholars and families to learn more about the man who went during his lifetime from a simple log cabin to the White House.

Two museum displays offer an authentic glimpse through reproductions of those structures in Lincoln’s life. (By the way, testing on wood from two old log cabins in Kentucky linked to Lincoln’s youth have turned out to be much older, disputing past claims that Lincoln once slept in those structures. Honest Abe’s spirit might get a chuckle out of those recent revelations proving once again one can’t fool all the people all the time.)

“I liked the log cabin they had there and the White House, too,” Helmink said.

She, like many children in her school, has great respect for the first president as well.

“Washington was our first president,” she said. And being the first, he set the standard for many presidential traditions.

Another lesson from Lincoln important to young people is not to give up after a setback. That was certainly true of Washington, who faced defeat after defeat during the Revolutionary War, but kept the American war effort going until the chance for a decisive victory came late in the war.

Lincoln suffered many political defeats during his lifetime, including the 1858 Senate election against Stephen Douglas. Niebrugge noted that Lincoln was not discouraged and eventually won the presidency.

So a holiday that cancels classes for a day can also be very enlightening, especially when you have a young, curious mind.