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Give Abe His Day Back

By James Utt

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Laguna Beach’s four public schools will be in session. They should not be.

That is the birthday of arguably our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. I am old enough to remember attending the schools in the Tustin School District in the 1950s and 1960s, when President Lincoln’s birthday was a holiday and schools were closed in his honor. We also honored George Washington, perhaps our second greatest president, by closing schools on his birthday, Feb. 22. Two great Americans, two separate holidays.

Then came the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, which created a day to honor all of our presidents. It was to fall on the third Monday of February. Thus was born “Presidents’ Day,” to honor all of our presidents. Poor Abe was shoe-horned into this holiday along with some truly, honestly, no-doubt-about-it, terrible presidents.

Want to honor a slave-owning president who did his best to destroy native people by the thousands? Then you can remember Andrew Jackson. Can you name the three presidents that came before Lincoln? There was Millard Fillmore, enforcer of the Fugitive Slave Act, and friend of the Know Nothing Party; then pro-slavery Franklin Pierce; and worst of the three, James Buchanan, who stood by and let the union begin to disintegrate. Talk about rolling snake eyes three times in a row!

Don’t forget about Andrew Johnson, who was indifferent to the plight of the freed slaves and was the first president to get impeached. President Harding gets an honorable mention in the hall of shame for having one of the most corrupt administrations in our nation’s history. Then there is, of course, Orange County’s own Richard Nixon, who would have been impeached, but resigned and fled to San Clemente before this could happen. Before Democrats puff out their chests too much, we must recall Bill Clinton and how he unscrupulously used his position of power to induce a rather naïve 22-year-old into having a sexual relationship. Had this happened during the time of the Me Too Movement, it is likely his presidency would not have survived.

There you have it. Abraham Lincoln lumped into a crowd that included the likes of those listed above. Lincoln was a leader who stood, both literally and figuratively, above all other presidents save perhaps, Washington. Lincoln should have his own holiday so students can reflect on the man who saved the union and freed the slaves. For crying out loud, we close our post offices for Columbus Day. That’s a poke in the eye to Native Peoples.

Giving Lincoln his day back probably won’t happen. We do love our three-day weekends and that is what “Presidents’ Day” gives us. There is also the retail aspect. Think of all the “Presidents’ Day” sales you are going to be flooded with when Feb. 18 rolls around.

By accident or design, Presidents’ Day in the Laguna Beach School District will fall in a week that our schools are closed. It is a week designated as “Mid-Winter Break,’ a.k.a. “Ski Week.” The district I taught in, the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, started working this into their calendar in the 1990s. I was puzzled then, and I am puzzled now. Why do we need another week off so soon after a two-week Winter Break, and not long before another week off for Spring Break? Let’s take time to ski, but not to honor President Lincoln.

I guess we should honor President Trump as well on the Feb. 18.  He is our president and did say, while addressing the United Nations, that his administration has accomplished more in its first two years than practically any other in U.S. history.

Gosh, should we put President Trump next to President Lincoln? Who comes out ahead? It is a close call. But I have to go with the one who served in the Illinois Militia (no problems with bone spurs), wrote his own speeches (Gettysburg Address v. early morning tweets), and could speak without a teleprompter in paragraphs that were not word-salads.

President Lincoln, we have not seen our equal since that night in April of 1865, when you were taken from a nation that needed you so. I see no one of your wisdom and integrity on the horizon, either.

Rest assured, I will spend a good portion of Feb. 12 remembering you. I hope Laguna Beach’s students will do the same.


James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He wonders if we have used up our quotient of great presidents.

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  1. Millard Fillmore was an able administrator and a patriot. The Compromise of 1850 which he signed into law kept the Union together for a further 10 years, enabling the North to become economically more powerful than the South and win the inevitable Civil War that came. So you curse Buchanan for doing nothing, and then curse Fillmore for acting. What would you have done Einstein? It is a pretty dangerous thing to attempt to judge the politics of the past by the standards of today. You have outstandingly highlighted this supreme folly. Well played.

  2. Well said. It is true that even Lincoln may have violated the Constitution regarding the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, but I would rather have him in office than any man who has held the office. He saved the union when it looked like it would be broken by the southern states. He rid us of slavery whose aftereffects still haunt us. He assured us that the phrase “We the people” in the preamble means the people and not the states, that our allegiance is to the nation and not our states. I don’t see the greatness of Lincoln in any president in my lifetime nor does the future hold any hope for a similar person coming into view. Yes, Lincoln should have his own day and even if he never does we should all fly our flags on February 12 in his honor.

  3. Aren’t all revisions of history based on our current thought? We have 20/20 hindsight which allows us to evaluate the actions of presidents over time. Millard Fillmore did enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, an act that was denounced in the North. And yes, I do realize that this act was a necessary part of the Compromise of 1850 to gain southern support. But, it still doesn’t make it right. Certainly, we do not want to debate the morality of slavery. Later in his career as a member of the nativist American Party (Know Nothings) he was no friend of immigrants. He supported Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policy that ran counter to Lincoln’s idea of letting the South rejoin the union with minimal obstructive requirements as possible. Historians and scholars have consistently ranked Fillmore as one of our worst presidents. Mr. Utt’s negative characterization of Fillmore is correct.


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