Public Law 90-363 – President’s Day

Today’s blog is directed at the trivial pursuit of arcane knowledge that can be shared when there is a lull in conversation.  Not that there isn’t enough to be talking about, what with all that is happening politically, environmentally, economically, and socially.  But you are, no doubt, already tapped into those areas.  Today’s blog is my attempt to calm the frayed nerves and provide a soothing yet educational respite from the above.

Back in the day, when I was still in elementary school, the month of February was focused on the lives of two American Presidents who had their birthdays in this month; Washington and Lincoln.  Both those days were taken as holidays, in order to show respect to these great leaders.  I don’t remember much about showing respect, but I certainly enjoyed the days off since it was a long stretch from January to Spring Break.

georgeWasg_lifemaskleftOur first President, born on February 22, lived to the ripe old age of 67.  Washington proved the exception throughout his remarkable life.  The average life expectancy for a white male in the 1780’s was only 35 years, so he was in the top range, exceeding his peers when he died in 1799.  Had he been born in our century, he would have been entitled to Medicare.

Lincoln_Death_MaskyThe other February leader, Abraham Lincoln, had his life cut short by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater on April 14th and died the following day.  He was 56 years old.  Pictures of Lincoln depict a weathered, time-worn face suggesting he was much older than 56.  Of course, the life expectancy for a white male in the 1860’s was 40.5 years.  Thus, like Washington, Abraham Lincoln exceeded, and possibly would have lasted much longer had he not succumbed to his injuries.

Did you know, however, that there are two other Presidents who have birthdays in February?   Neither of them has warranted their own special day off,  William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan both were born in February.  Both men exceeded the lifespan of their contemporaries, with Harrison living to 68 and Reagan to 93.

So what happened to celebrating Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays and why do we now observe just one day for all the Presidents?    In a word, commerce.  The motivation to create a “President’s Day” seemingly arose from a need to tidy up and maximize the work schedules of Federal employees.  Taking days off in the middle of the week was disruptive to commerce, or so the story goes.  Organizing a three-day weekend gave employers a break in terms of scheduling and consumers a chance to relax and spend some money.   It has evolved into an economic bonanza for car sales and other sales.  Today it ranks as second only to Christmas in terms of profits.

Pres_Day_SaleThe Father of our County, First in War and First in Peace had his birthday celebration switched to a different day in 1971 by Public Law 90-363.  Lincoln’s birthday was inferred without any acknowledgement, and there is no mention of poor William Henry Harrison at all!  It was signed into law by Richard Nixon long before Ronald Reagan was elected, so Reagan was not included either.  The original act was quite simple and straightforward:

(a)  The following are legal public holidays:

New Year’s Day, January 1.

Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February.

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.

Independence Day, July 4.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September.

Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.

Veterans Day, the fourth Monday in October.

Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.

Christmas Day, December 25.

            Any reference in a law of the United States (in effect on the effective date of the amendment made by subsection (a) of this section) to the observance of a legal public holiday on a day other than the day prescribed for the observance of such holiday by section 6103(a) of title 5, United States Code, as amended by subsection (a), shall on and after such effective date be considered a reference to the day for the observance of such holiday prescribed in such amended section 6103(a).

            SEC. 2. The amendment made by subsection (a) of the first Section of this Act shall take effect on January 1, 1971.

Amendments were later made to it to include Martin Luther King and return Veteran’s Day to November 11th:

(a)  The following are legal public holidays:

New Year’s Day, January 1.

Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January.

Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February.

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May.

Independence Day, July 4.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September.

Columbus Day, the second Monday in October.

Veterans Day, November 11.

Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.

Christmas Day, December 25.

(b)  For the purpose of statutes relating to pay and leave of employees, with respect to a legal public holiday and any other day declared to be a holiday by Federal statute or Executive order, the following rules apply:

(1)  Instead of a holiday that occurs on a Saturday, the Friday immediately before is a legal public holiday for–

(A)  employees whose basic workweek is Monday through Friday;  and

(B)  the purpose of section 6309 of this title.

(There is more about who gets time off based on what kind of schedule they have, and if you are interested, you can look that up here.)

Of course, these holidays are Federal holidays, and therefore do not apply to the majority of workers in America.  Some employers choose to observe these days, but most Americans continue to work or if they take the day off, it will be without pay.

FIVE PILLARS OF AGING5_Pillars

Many of us derive our sense of worth and identity from what we do.  There is a strong work ethic in the United States, and even after retirement, many of us continue to provide valuable services even if we are not paid.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), people 65 and older comprise almost a quarter of all volunteers in the United States.  When the floor is dropped to 55+ that number increases to 50%.

Thanks for reading and happy President’s Day!

2 comments

  1. A fun read. Mary. Yes, this week is Mr Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th. William Henry Harrison is known for having given the LONGEST Inaugural Address, I think, over two-hours in inclement weather! He died soon after. Yes, we are fortunate to have these relatively long lives. Let’s hope not to squander our time here and remember the importance of service to others, however we define it. Happy Valentine’s Day :-).

  2. Speaking of employment, I recently learned that the sudden burst of employment is a a result of over-55s taking on
    second jobs. We should also note a significant number of 70-year olds are also working both full-time and part-time in some capacity–pet sitting, walking dogs, renting rooms, child care.My aunt was doing child care into her eighties!
    Retirement planning now includes considering employment possibilities. And speaking of commerce,John Wanamaker founder of Philadelphia’s major department store, was the firepower behind Mother’s Day.

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