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Presidential Facts and 'Firsts'

Portraits of American Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. (Library of Congress)
Portraits of American Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. (Library of Congress)
Presidential Facts and 'Firsts'
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A history of Presidents' Day

The third Monday of February is known as Presidents’ Day in the United States. For almost 100 years, America officially honored the birthday of its first president, George Washington, on February 22. That is his birthday. That date was a national holiday until 1968.

That year, the U.S. Congress passed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The measure meant that some public holidays would always fall on a Monday. Today, the U.S. honors its first president on the third Monday in February, and not on Washington’s actual birthday.

The holiday is also now commonly called Presidents’ Day. Many say it also honors Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The nation’s 16th president was born on February 12.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act gives workers a three-day weekend. It also gives shops and marketers a chance to have special Presidents’ Day sales.

The U.S. federal government, however, still recognizes the holiday as “Washington’s Birthday.”

Presidential Facts and 'Firsts'

The year 2016 is a big year in America. The presidential elections take place this November. As the country focuses on electing a new president, let us take a look at some presidential facts and “firsts.”

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Feb. 11, 2016.
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Feb. 11, 2016.

Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, is running to become the first woman president of the country. If elected, she would also be the first First Lady to become president in history. Her husband, Bill Clinton, was America’s 42nd president.

Not to be outdone, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is trying to become the first Jewish president of the U.S. If elected, Sanders would also be the first self-declared “socialist” to become president in a strongly “capitalist” country.

This year, Jeb Bush is trying to become the third member of his family to win the presidency. His father, George Herbert Walker Bush, was the 41st president and his brother, George W. Bush, was the 43rd.

But the Bushes were not the first father-son presidents.

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams

That title belongs to the Adams family. John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was the first son of a president to become president. John Adams, his father, was the nation’s first vice-president. He went on to become America’s second president.

And Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president, followed his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, to the White House.

In an election year when voters are unhappy with the unequal distribution of wealth, businessman Donald Trump is looking to become the first billionaire to win the White House. That would make him the richest president ever.

Some experts say that John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, currently holds the title of richest person to serve as president. Kennedy was also the youngest person to be elected president, as well as the youngest president to die in office. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

If Donald Trump does win the Republican nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, will not be able to become the first foreign-born president. Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, was born in Canada to a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. Constitution requires that presidents be “natural born citizens.” But, the meaning of “natural-born citizen” is not exactly clear. People read the rule in different ways.

Portrait of Martin Van Buren by Mathew Brady
Portrait of Martin Van Buren by Mathew Brady

The first “natural-born” president of the U.S. was not George Washington or John Adams. It was Martin Van Buren, the eighth president. He was born in 1782, six years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

All seven presidents before Van Buren and William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, were not “natural-born” citizens. They were born before 1776, when the American states were still colonies.

William Henry Harrison himself does have one presidential “first.” He was the first president to die in office. Harrison was president for only 32 days, the shortest time of any president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president, served the longest time of any president. He held office for 4,422 days. After Roosevelt’s death, the 22nd amendment was passed. It limited a person to two four-year terms as president.

That law prevents Barack Obama, the 44th president, from running for another term. Obama, of course, will always be known as the first black president of the United States.

Hai Do reported on this story VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

uniform – adj. not varying or changing

cousin - n. a child of your uncle or aunt

distribution - n. the way that something is divided or spread out

assassinated. - v. killed usually for political reasons

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