Appreciated at a Price


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America, the land that was made for you and me. Or was it? 

With the annual appearance of President’s Day, we are programmed to honor the past leaders of our country, in spite of their multitude of negative influences on our society. The questionable actions of these leaders are often glossed over, as we force ourselves to consider their more “significant” and positive impacts on our country. However, in neglecting their controversial actions, we are only depriving ourselves of the ability to look back on the country’s past with a wholesome perspective, and make reasonable decisions for our own future as a nation. 

As a die-hard Hamilton fan, it was hard for me to confront the fact that even the founding fathers, who are often depicted and assumed to be the purest of individuals, have dark pasts swimming with horrific actions. Such unmentionables include involvements in the slave trade, a bias towards the rich elite, and more acts that should be heavily criticized in this current day. 

An anecdote that particularly surprised me was that of Alexander Hamilton, scrappy revolutionary extraordinaire, himself. Although Hamilton wasn’t a president of the United States, he is still considered to be a foundational leader and activist, in our country’s earlier days. According to Tom Cutterham, lecturer in US History at the University of Birmingham, the “real” Alexander Hamilton was an  “elitist anti-democrat, who used violence to crush dissent.” Crushing dissent? More like crushing my middle school heart that rooted for you throughout the musical. Way to go, Alexander Hamilton.

Oftentimes, due to our familiarity with the misdeeds of recent leaders, present-day citizens look to America’s “humble” founding fathers as an excuse to celebrate Presidents day. However, even these founding fathers have made questionable and immoral decisions that often aren’t brought to public attention and light. As we confront such dark truths head on, the decision to celebrate a holiday honoring presidents (even those of the earliest backgrounds) becomes more complicated. 

Think, George Washington. According to Vintage News, the revered military general who is commonly renowned for being one of America’s best leaders, actually demonstrated tendencies of classism, with his economic policies frequently favoring the elite rich. Additionally, Washington, a slave owner, aimed to find and use legal loopholes to avoid freeing his slaves “even as the states he lived in worked toward abolishing slavery.” Essentially, an early president who we don’t normally associate with negative qualities still made decisions that proved detrimental to lower parts of society. I understand that the purpose of President’s Day is to honor leaders who made a lasting impact on our nation, but if we have to feign ignorance to their mistakes in doing so, it makes me question whether the holiday is truthful and encompasses all aspects of our past presidents. 

I entirely acknowledge the fact that President’s Day is a method to inculcate a sense of nationalism, but there are a plethora of other ways to celebrate America’s nationalist and diverse outlook. Is it really necessary to celebrate presidents who maintained injustices and stigmatized horrors towards parts of humanity? One such founding father was Thomas Jefferson, whose actions of mass-scale slave ownership have been coming to light. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Thomas Jefferson not only owned six hundred slaves during his lifetime, “but he also coerced and forced, under false promises, a teenage female slave to serve as his concubine after the death of his wife.” 

What I’m trying to say is that many presidents, despite their contributions to our nation, also had their faults and downsides. Thus, it speaks volumes to our nation when we decide to celebrate the general “President” and leader, especially our founding fathers. I fully understand that, without them, the nation of “America” wouldn’t even exist, but all I’m saying is that I don’t believe that we should honor and admire them as much as we do. 

In addition to the numerous wrongdoings of many of our founding fathers, it is important to acknowledge the fact that even some of our more recent presidents, whom we value for their contributions to society, have made personal errors that we would deem controversial to this day. Consider Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is ranked among the greatest American presidents, due to his leadership through the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt, in spite of his courageous leadership, was a prolific adulterer who spent most of his married life away from his estranged wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. According to History Collection, he partook in “many” extramarital affairs, all while being legally married to his wife. Essentially, even the most celebrated presidents made choices that are questionable in this current era. Therefore, as we celebrate Presidents Day, it is important to avoid the blind admiration of people who weren’t fully worthy of this appreciation. 

History is just a myriad of information, composed of different biases and opinions, so it is important for our current society to know all the facts and not feel coerced into celebrating the normalized actions of founding fathers. I recommend that current generations use their own ration and logic to decide whether or not they should commemorate the actions of presidents like Andrew Jackson, who forcibly removed tens of thousands of native americans from their homes, or John Adams, who often imprisoned Americans for speaking out against the government, in the national holiday of Presidents Day.

The widespread appreciation of the founding fathers and celebrated presidents, individuals who are frequently idolized for their contributions to the nation, comes at a price. It is imperative to understand that not all of their choices and effects on society were positive, and many of them severely inhibited the progression and growth of oppressed groups with our nation. Therefore, the next time someone mentions the necessity of “Presidents Day” in an effort to honor the leaders of our country, remember that they weren’t really all that they are made out to be.