Presidents Day as we know it did not start until 1971. That year the February birthdays of President Lincoln and George Washington were combined as part of the Saturday-to-Monday holiday observances. Previously each birthday had been observed separately.

Abraham Lincoln is perhaps more typical of the American hero than any other. Washington, on the other hand, came from a wealthy Virginia family and became a wealthy landowner himself.

Lincoln, born in a log cabin in Kentucky, raised as a youngster to be a farmhand, became one of the world’s greatest champions of freedom and liberty.

Lincoln had an outstanding reputation in the communities in which he lived.

As a self-taught lawyer, he became involved in local politics, then moved into state politics and served from 1834-1842 as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. He served in the U.S. Congress from the Illinois 7th District from 1847-1849.

He was a surprise victor in the 1860 U.S. presidential election that capped a brilliant career which had begun when he was chosen captain of a company of Illinois militia volunteers in the Black Hawk Indian War in 1832.

Lincoln biographers note that although he had his faults, “his patience, gentle manner and far-reaching vision enabled him to guide the country through the extremely trying days of the Civil War.”

Except for possibly George Washington, no one has been able to equal Lincoln’s hold on the hearts of the American public.

No finer tribute can be paid than the one seen each day at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of visitors stand, at all hours, and silently read his immoral words on the freedom and dignity of man.

That said, the man who was most influential in the successful founding of the new nation called the United States was George Washington. As such, he is rightly remembered as the father of his country.

As the first president elected by popular vote, not by the Continental Congress, Washington helped win independence for the colonies from Great Britain on the field of battle. He also set the precedent for a two-term limit for the chief executive. Franklin Roosevelt did not follow that rule with his four terms, but the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 permanently set the limit at two consecutive terms.

Moreover, Washington helped establish the foundational principles of American government. One of these principles involved staying out of the affairs of foreign nations. Historians note this decision was “very likely the wisest course of action for a young nation at the time. This allowed the nation to prosper and grow during its early years as they did not get involved in the French Revolution or the Napoleonic Wars.”

Washington died Dec. 17, 1799. He was 67.

His high standards of conduct, morality, ethics and statesmanship were, and still are, an example for Americans in public office.