February 17, 2020
Day 48 of 366
February 17th is the forty-eighth day of the year. It is Presidents Day in the United States.
Historical items of note:
- In 1753, February 17th was followed by March 1st in Sweden when the country moved from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
- In 1801, an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr was resolved when Jefferson was elected President of the United States by the House of Representatives. Burr became Vice President due to the convention of the time.
- In 1819, the United States House of Representatives passed the Missouri Compromise for the first time. The Missouri Compromise provided for the admission of Maine to the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South in the United States Senate.
- In 1864, during the American Civil War, the Confederate H. L. Hunley became the first submarine to engage and sink a warship. Its target was the Union’s USS Housatonic.
- In 1881, Mary Carson Breckinridge was born. An American nurse-midwife, she founded the Frontier Nursing Service.
- In 1904, Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala in Milan.
- In 1925, actor Hal Holbrook was born.
- In 1936, the world’s first superhero made his first appearance in comics as Lee Falk’s The Phantom debuted.
- In 1963, American basketball legend Michael Jordan was born.
- In 1964, a decision in Wesberry v. Sanders by the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that congressional districts have to be approximately equal in population.
- In 1965, The Ranger 8 probe launched on its mission to photograph the Mare Tranquillitatis region of the Moon. The Sea of Tranquility would later be chosen as the site for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
- In 1991, actress, director, and screenwriter Bonnie Wright was born.
It is Presidents Day in the United States.
The federal holiday was originally called Washington’s Birthday, observed on the third Monday of February in honor of George Washington. Washington was the first President of the United States and was born on February 22, 1732 by the Gregorian Calendar. When he was born, his Virginia home was still under British rule, and thus under the Julian calendar, so his “old style” birthdate was February 11, 1731. In 1752, the British Empire converted to the Gregorian Calendar and subjects born before then had their birthdates converted to the “new style” dates.
The holiday coincides with state holidays across the country that celebrate George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other United States Presidents. The observation as it stands today honors all who have served as President of the United States.
The federal holiday honoring Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 for government offices and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices. It was originally celebrated Washington’s birthday, but was shifted to the third Monday in February in 1971.
The first attempt to create a Presidents Day occurred in 1951. Harold Stonebridge Fischer founded the “President’s Day National Committee” with the purpose of honoring the office of the presidency. It was first thought that March 4, the original inauguration day, should be deemed Presidents Day, but the bill recognizing March 4 stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. While the Senate stalled out, a majority of state governors issued proclamations declaring the March date as Presidents’ Day in their respective jurisdictions.
While an early draft of the 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday Act contained the name “Presidents’ Day” for the February celebration, it didn’t stick when the bill was signed into law. The term finally surfaced in the mid-1980s with a push from advertisers.
The traditional food of the holiday is cherry pie, based around the legend surrounding Washington and the cherry tree. The holiday is also a tribute to the first military badge of merit for the common soldier, the Purple Heart, which bears Washington’s image and is awarded to soldiers wounded in battle.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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