Friday, February 17, 2012

President's Day Fun Facts to Know & Tell

Once upon a time we celebrated George Washington's birthday on February 22nd. And in a number of states (including New York), Abraham Lincoln's birthday was observed on February 12th. Every six years or so, the 12th would fall on a Friday and the 22nd on a Monday, resulting in back-to-back three-day weekends.

In 1968, it was decided that holiday observances needed to be standardized and almost all federal holidays were moved to Mondays. The exceptions were Christmas, New Year's Day, and July 4th... and Thanksgiving, which remained on Thursday. As a result, Washington's birthday morphed into President's Day on the third Monday in February, a choice that made it impossible for the holiday to ever fall on the 22nd.

Since then, in part to reduce heating costs as a result of the energy crises of the '70s, schools in the more northern climes have opted to close for the entire week. In fact, many now refer to it as President's Week.

But how much do you know about the 43 men who have been our 44 Presidents? For your edification and amusement, here are some Fun Facts to Know & Tell...

Grover Cleveland is both our 22nd and 24th President. Benjamin Harrison served a single term between Cleveland's two.

The aforementioned Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, also known as "Old Tippecanoe." The elder Harrison held office for only one month, having caught pneumonia on Inauguration Day. He was succeeded by John Tyler.

The death in office of Harrison -- elected in 1840 -- was the first in what many believed was a jinx on the men elected in each subsequent 20th year. Abraham Lincoln (1860), James A. Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren G. Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960) all died in office (though Lincoln and Roosevelt had been reelected in 1864 and 1944, respectively). Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy were assassinated; the other four died of natural causes.The jinx was broken with Ronald Reagan, who survived an assassination attempt.

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were not the first father and son to be elected President. That distinction goes to John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Of the rest of the Presidents, the only ones who were related were Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, who were distant cousins. In fact, Teddy was a closer relation to Eleanor, Franklin's wife, who was a Roosevelt even before she married FDR.

FDR was the only President to be elected more than twice, beginning in 1932. The two-term limit was made law during Harry Truman's tenure. Prior to FDR's four election victories, it was tradition, based on George Washington's decision that eight years was enough, to retire after two terms.

Prior to being elected President, Dwight D. Eisenhower had never been elected to any public office. After leaving office, John Quincy Adams ran for and was elected to the House of Representatives; he was the only President to do so.

Fourteen of the men who served as Vice President became President. Eight of them (Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson) took office as a result of the death of the President and one (Gerald Ford) as a result of a resignation. Ford (who was born Leslie King, Jr.) is the only President who was not elected to the office or that of Vice President. He was appointed to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned as VP, and then became President when Richard Nixon resigned.

Two Presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached. Both were acquitted and neither was removed from office.
The first fifteen Presidents were clean-shaven. Abraham Lincoln had a beard and, except for Andrew Johnson and William McKinley, the next ten sported facial hair. Woodrow Wilson was clean-shaven, as are all the Presidents since.
Six men named James have been elected President (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, and Carter). There have been four Johns (Adams, Quincy Adams, Tyler, and Kennedy) and three Georges (Washingtoon, Bush and Bush). And we have also had Presidents with the uncommon names of Millard, Ulysses (Grant), Rutherford (Hayes), Grover, Woodrow (Wilson), Dwight, Lyndon and Barack.
Finally, referring to the President by his initials (FDR, JFK, LBJ, etc.) or by a nickname ("Ike") came about when newspaper editors wanted to save space, particularly in headlines. Last names of more than six letters were cumbersome so the shortcuts were taken. Since Lyndon Johnson's term in office, only one President has had a last name of more than six letters, Clinton, whom the papers often referred to as "Bill."

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