Most people know Presidents’ Day as a day off when students do not go to school and most of the professional world is shut down. Everyone enjoys a day of sleeping in and relaxation in the midst of their chaotic lives. But, the purpose of Presidents’ Day is to celebrate the former presidents of the United States. While the US has a legacy of revered leaders, many of these people did things that today are not causes for celebration. So that raises the question: Should we celebrate Presidents’ Day at all?
Oftentimes, the US does not teach the full history of its most famous presidents. They put out narratives to make them out to be great American heroes, but the truth is that they were far from perfect. Among the first 12 presidents, only John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, did not own slaves. Richard Nixon considered assassinating a journalist whom he did not like. Grover Cleveland acted as the guardian of an 11-year-old daughter of a family friend, and then married her when she turned 21. And these are just a few examples.

These facts are rarely included in US history textbooks. Mostly, they are swept under the rug in order to preserve the image of these famous presidents. But, that doesn’t make them any less true. And certainly, these are not acts worthy of celebration. 

At the same time, US presidents have accomplished many admirable feats. Abraham Lincoln fought to unify the nation and end slavery. While he obviously could not end racism in the US, he managed to stop the institution of slavery, which was a massive first step in the right direction. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped bring the US out of the Great Depression. Dwight D. Eisenhower sponsored and signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1957. 

These accomplishments deserve to be talked about. They were monumental changes in the history of the US, and the work these presidents put into guiding the country in the right direction should not go overlooked. On the other hand, we should not build up all 46 presidents as people who could do no wrong. All the bad decisions and poor ethics of these individuals should be talked about just as much as their success. Presidents, much like everyone else, are not good or bad, but somewhere in between. Some fall on different ends of the spectrum, but no one was entirely on one side of the other.

I believe that should be the point of Presidents’ Day, to celebrate what should be celebrated, and talk about the failures of US presidents so that they can be avoided in the future. The narrative that all former leaders of the US were heroes is just as false as the narrative that they were all terrible people. The goal should be to establish a narrative in the middle that acknowledges both sides. And if we use the third Monday in February every year as a way of developing and conveying that narrative, then I see nothing wrong with celebrating Presidents’ Day.