Presidents Day, which honors George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, is a tricky affair. Originally meant to honor Washington around his birthday, it's now a presidential twofer. Since Congress moved the holiday to the third Monday of the month, this three-day weekend has spawned one of the major retail events of the season (which could perhaps be seen as an unbridled celebration of the capitalistic freedoms our Founding Fathers promoted). Most often, The Times used Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays for more solemn reflection in times of war.

At the turn of the century, The Times remembered Old Abe's birthday:

Abraham Lincoln.
February 12, 1900

Today marks the ninety-first anniversary of the birth of that immortal American and emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, and therefore it is fitting, at this hour, to recall to the minds of his countrymen what character of man he was, and to point out, to the youth of the republic, the lesson his great life taught.

Washington and Lincoln were two men that associate themselves in the mind when either name is spoken, and while there are some Americans who show an inclination to discuss the question, as to which was the nobler and greater man, such discussion is wholly idle, for each, in his time, attained to the full measure of a man. Praise can reach no higher point than this, for to be all that is demanded in potential manhood is to be next to God. As to which came closer to the hearts of the people is likewise idle and unseemly speculation; for to his contemporaries Washington's name was as dear as was the name of Lincoln's to those who fought at Gettysburg, at Antietam, and the Wilderness, or to those others who performed the service, equally valuable, of supporting the armies in the field with a spirit of steadfast loyalty …

It is to the career of Abraham Lincoln that we should invite the clearest and best thought of the generation that is now coming upon the field of action. Those who study it with care will not only find entertainment in the enterprise, but they will be steadied in spirit and strengthened in purpose by the splendid example set by the great American who freed the slave, and washed from the flag of stars its one unseemly stain. If the youth who has a taste for politics will say to himself, "What would Lincoln have done?" when setting out upon a course of action, and will follow as closely as may be in the footsteps of the immortal President, then he cannot fail to make of politics a success. For, rightly pursued, politics is a noble and praiseworthy occupation, as behind it lies the very life of our government. It is right and proper for every good American to be a politician, in the best sense of that much-abused word, "politics." He who is in politics for revenue is a bloodsucker; but he who is in political enterprise for his country is the truest of patriots. Lincoln has often been called America's greatest politician, and there is reason for the appellation. He was our country's greatest politician because he was second to no man in his love of country and in his faithfulness to and trust in the people.

When God called Abraham Lincoln on that gloomy morn in April he was at the zenith of his fame and the power as a man, and when he died there slipped into the great beyond the sweetest, most patient, most kindly spirit that ever dwelt in a human body. Upon his grave today let all reverent Americans lay a chaplet of kindly thought and thankfulness that such a man as he once lived to dower the name of his country with imperishable glory and renown.

The next time that The Times looked up to a dead president for guidance, it was from the depths of World War II:

We Need a George Washington
February 22, 1942

This is the anniversary of the birth of a man who left for us, among other great patriotic legacies, examples of peculiar pertinence to our problems of today. The date is separated, in this "month of Presidents," by only 10 days from the natal anniversary of another great American war leader whose courage in adversity has become a national tradition.

Washington and Lincoln knew what it was to fight wars in which nearly everything consistently went wrong, not for months only but for years. Our dismay after Pearl Harbor was no greater than that of our colonist ancestors after Washington's early defeats in New York. Singapore probably is no more discouraging to us than was the first Manassas to the "smugly overconfident" North in the Civil War.

Nor were the Father of His Country and the Great Emancipator strangers to internal dissension and their-day versions of "Cliveden Sets." They had to accept crushing defeats which should have been victories but for the incompetence and worse of trusted commanders. They had their intervals of stimulating success, with worse defeats to follow and yet more confusion and demoralization to contend with from within. In their darkest hours, their native courage and determination were pillared by faith in the latent strength of their charges and in the might that arms a quarrel just. But it was not till after Valley Forge that Washington's unshakeable confidence was justified by a definite trend toward victory, nor that of Lincoln till after Gettysburg …

Incidentally, if anyone had suggested that Washington stop essential war work to celebrate his own birthday, or that of anyone else, on a Monday because the actual anniversary happened to fall on a Sunday, he would undoubtedly have been treated to a free sample of the Virginian's vigorous vocabulary.

As we observe the occasion ourselves, let's give point to it by remembering some of the things which make it worthy of our observance.

The nascent Cold War kept The Times' eye trained on military role models, as the introduction to the following editorial shows:

National Defense Week
February 11, 1953