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President's Day

President's Day
The United States has had 43 presidents since its founding. They've led the nation in times of peace and war, hardship and plenty. Today, President's Day, the nation commemorates them all.

For its extensive power, the American presidency is one leg of a three-legged stool created by the Founders to serve as a system of checks and balances against government abuse. The Congress enacts the laws of the land, the president executes them and the federal courts ensure that the actions of both comply with the Constitution. While occasionally strained, the system has worked well over time, guaranteeing that no president, or indeed any government official, is above the law.

Today's holiday began as a celebration of the man who helped establish that system, the nation's first president, George Washington. His birthday, February 22, was marked unofficially almost from the time of his death in 1799, and formally became a national holiday in 1885.

Over time, Americans also began honoring another leader, Abraham Lincoln, whose February 12 birthday falls near Washington's. Official recognition of the 2 began in 1971, with a day honoring all presidents each year on the third Monday of the month.

This year, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the holiday's connection with the Great Emancipator has been heightened with the inauguaration of a new president, Barack Obama, the first African-American to hold the office. Both men are from the state of Illinois, and President Obama has promoted the sense of that connection. He launched his 2008 presidential campaign from Lincoln's hometown of Springfield and took the oath of office with a hand on one of Lincoln's bibles.

This kind of attention has tended to overshadow other prominent presidents over the years, men such as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. But this is their day too, when Americans pause to honor their character, leadership and service to country.