Images of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant from U.S. bank notes, framed in a U.S. flag.

Remembering Presidents

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 14 February 2024 > Celebrate

On the third Monday in February, Americans celebrate Presidents’ Day, in honour of all 46 Presidents but especially George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A good time to brush up on what qualifications you need to be President.

Today’s Presidents’ Day grew out of individual celebrations of George Washington’s birthday on 22 February and Abraham Lincoln’s on 12 February.

Although all Presidents are supposed to be equal, some are clearly held in greater esteem than others. Washington (1732-1799), the country’s first president as well as the successful military leader of the American Revolution, was remembered on his birthday from the year following his death. Lincoln (1861-1865) was also victorious in the Civil War and is chiefly remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation, theoretically ending slavery. His assassination, just after the end of the war in 1865, shocked the nation.

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota features monumental portraits of Presidents George Washington (1789-1797), Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909).

So You Want to Be President?
The Constitution lists only three qualifications for the Presidency — the President must be at least 35 years of age, be a natural-born citizen, and must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.

Today, “natural-born” is taken to mean born on U.S. territory (which means you are automatically a citizen) or as the child of a U.S. citizen. But, of course, the first Presidents couldn’t have been born in the United States, since it didn’t exist yet. They were all born in British American colonies. The first President actually born in the U.S.A. was the eighth, Martin Van Buren. He was born in 1782, after the Declaration of Independence (1776) but a year before the end of the American Revolution.

This short video gives a fun insight into the constitutional requirements.

There is one other major requirement, but it wasn’t included in the Constitution. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1951, says that a President can’t be elected to more than two terms in office. George Washington set that precedent, stepping down after his second term. And most other Presidents stuck to it, only serving one or two terms. Until Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms (1933-1945), during the Great Depression and the Second World War. He actually died three months into the fourth term, and was succeeded by his Vice-President Harry Truman. And soon after Congress decided it was time to enshrine the two-term limit in the Constitution.

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