Presidents Day: Washington, Lincoln Were Once as Divisive as Trump, Obama

Historians caution presidential legacies need to be seen over time and space to be analyzed.

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Presidents Day is a chance for Americans to reflect on legacies of those who held the highest office in the country — and it’s no coincidence that the holiday takes place around the birthday of the first and most revered of them.

But not everyone was as reverential of George Washington during his presidency.

“We look back without rancor at these guys, but Washington was bitterly denounced during his presidency and the language used against (Abraham) Lincoln makes what’s said against Trump very mild,” Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, told NBC News.

“The partisan bitterness that we see today is not unprecedented by any means.”

Historians say presidential legacies need time and space to properly analyze. And the future is even more difficult to read.

“If history proves one thing, in our worst moments we get our best heroes,” said Brad Meltzer, whose latest book, “The First Conspiracy,” chronicles a little-known assassination attempt on then-General Washington during the early days of the war.

“Right now in a supermarket, there is a kid pulling the Cheetos off the shelf, and throwing a tantrum,” he said, “and that kid one day will grow up to be president and do something amazing.”

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