Presidents' Day, officially
is observed on the third
Monday of February.
In 1968, legislation
(HR 15951) was enacted
that affected several
federal holidays. One of
the observation of which
was shifted to the third
Monday in February each
year. This act was
designed to simplify the
yearly calendar of
misconception is that
Presidents' Day is the
or that it is a
celebration of all U.S.
Presidents. Both of
these assumptions are
Although some states
do celebrate Presidents'
Day as a state holiday,
it has never been
recognized at the
federal level. On the
national level, the
third Monday of February
is the official
C. L. Arbelbide
this holiday in a two
part article titled "By
George, IT IS
(Prologue - Winter 2004,
vol. 36, no. 4). The
article can be accessed
on the Prologue website
(Prologue is a publication of the National Archives and
Hail to the Chief
The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band
Origin of "Hail to the Chief"
In its original
form, James Sanderson's "Hail to the Chief" was a
setting of a portion of Canto 2, in Sir Walter Scott's
"The Lady of the Lake." Apparently Sanderson
borrowed this setting from its use in one of the
several dramatic versions of the poem which appeared
shortly after Scott's epic was written. In
November 1810, Scott wrote to a friend that "The Lady
of the Lake" was being made into a play by Martin and
Reynolds in London and by a Mr. Siddons in Edinburgh.
Presumably the music was written sometime between 1810
and 1811. In that time frame, Scott received a
letter from a friend and army officer who ended his
note with a copy of the music of the Boat Song, "Hail
to the Chief."
The music and a version of the play soon appeared in
this country. The first performance of the play
in New York City, for example, was given on May 8,
1812. One of the earliest copies of the music
found in the Military District of Washington's
collections was probably printed during 1812.
Many other printers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia
and Baltimore also published versions of "Hail to the
Chief," not to mention numerous parodies. One of
them, for example, is "Wreaths for the Chieftain,"
written by L.M. Sargent, Esq. and sung by Mr.
Huntington, in the Stone Chapel, Boston, at the
celebration of peace with Great Britain, and the
birthday of Gen. Washington, Feb. 22, 1815.
Adapted to a favorite air of Sanderson, from "The Lady
of the Lake" by F. Granger. Boston, G. Graupner
Judging by the song's frequency in the performances by
songsters, it sprang almost immediately into wide,
general popularity. The song maintained its
popularity well into the 1840's, both in its original
form and in that of various political and patriotic
Because of its martial character and the
appropriateness of its title, gradually there was a
transition of "Hail to the Chief" from just a popular
tune of the day to a march which has enjoyed
"official" status. When the tune was first used
for a presidential inauguration is unknown.
Contemporary accounts of the inaugural ceremonies
unfortunately do not mention any particular musical
compositions which may have been performed.
No doubt, during the period of the song's greatest
popularity, many band leaders thought it would be
appropriate to greet the appearance of some political
figures with the well-known strains. Later, by a
process much too gradual to call for special mention,
it was reserved entirely for Presidential appearances.
*Sanderson, James, 1769-1841 March and chorus, in
the dramatic romance of the "Lady of the Lake,"
composed by Mr. Sanderson. Philadelphia, Published by
G.E. Blake (ca. 1812).
Military District of Washington
By George, IT IS Washington's Birthday! -
Excellent article explaining how Washington's
Birthday became popularly known as Presidents'
Day. This article has two sections. Be sure to
Part 1 and
Part 2. (Prologue - Winter 2004, vol. 36,
no. 4. © C. L. Arbelbide)
Washington's Birthday Holiday Honors "Father of
our Country" (From the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs)
Presidents of the United States - pictures
and brief biographies of all of the US
presidents (The White House)
Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies
(Library of Congress)
Presidents of the United States - Background
information, election results, cabinet members,
notable events, and some points of interest on
each of the presidents. Links to biographies,
historical documents, audio and video files, and
other presidential sites are also included. (The
Internet Public Library)
US Code Title 5, Chapter 61, Section 6103(a)
- This federal law defines the third Monday of
February as Washington's Birthday. (The Legal
President Nixon's 1971 Executive Order 11582
- Observance of holidays by Government agencies.
(National Archives and Records Administration)
Hail to the