Next year, you might have a new holiday on your calendar—if you live in Ohio.
As president, Ulysses S. Grant gave America the federal Christmas holiday. Now he gets a special day of his own.
Beginning next year, Ohio, Grant’s home state, will celebrate April 27 as Ulysses S. Grant Day. The Civil War general was born on that date in 1822. Ohio Senator Terry Johnson and Representative Adam Bird introduced day-naming bills. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the legislation into law in December.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress also marked the 200th year of Grant’s birth. The action included a posthumous military promotion to the U.S. Army’s highest rank of General of the Armies of the United States.
“Personally, I believe Ulysses S. Grant is one of Ohio’s greatest native sons,” Bird says. “I think history is starting to look much differently at his time as president.”
Indeed, scholars in recent years have reassessed Grant’s complicated legacy. He held a man named William Jones enslaved for several years and benefitted from slavery through his slaveholding wife. His presidency was marred by scandal.
But Grant was also an important military commander. He led the Union to several victories and eventually the surrender of the Confederacy. As president, Grant supported the 15th Amendment which granted black men the right to vote and attempted to squash violence against black people in the South. Some scholars now argue for him to be considered America’s first civil rights president. They say he was a flawed leader who did what he could to protect freedmen after the war.
The Bible reminds us not to lionize (exalt) human leaders. God is the only perfect ruler. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation,” we read in Psalm 146:3.
Grant’s legacy also includes the federal Christmas holiday. As president, he signed legislation to create the holiday in 1870. The move was viewed as a gesture to unify the South, where some states had already embraced the tradition, and the North, whose Puritan roots had generally deterred it.
Christmas is the only federal holiday with a religious association. (Thanksgiving assumes one expresses gratitude to some entity, but does not specify to whom or to what. Christmas, however, is expressly about the birth of Christ.) Efforts to remove it for that reason have been unsuccessful. A federal judge in Ohio rejected a constitutional challenge to the holiday in 1999. She noted that people could spend the day off however they wished.
Why? In the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to observe special days and feasts. For Christians, holidays can prompt us to think about what God has done and who He is.