14. Update Our Public Symbols

A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life, Plank 14

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Plank 14. Update our public symbols

Specific Recommendations

14.1. To increase voter turnout, hold federal elections on the second Monday in May instead of the first week of November and make Election Day a federal holiday.

14.2. Convene Congress on June 1st instead of January 3rd (which will eliminate congressional lame-duck sessions) and inaugurate the president on July 1st instead of January 20th (which will shorten presidential transitions).

14.3. To simplify federal budgeting, begin the federal fiscal year on January 1st instead of October 1st.

14.4. Update the ten federal holidays, and the images on United States coins and currency, to celebrate American principles and achievements.


This plank is primarily about two things: our public calendar and our public symbols. These may seem trivial matters, compared to others discussed in this plan. But surely they have a sort of importance. Common symbols have a common meaning. They help us remember who we are. At their best, they inspire us to be our best.

These reforms are what I would call non-essential but beneficial.

Fiscal Year

Let’s synchronize the federal fiscal and tax years with the calendar year. Just start everything on January 1st. It would be simpler for all of us. This is not a radical idea. Congress has twice moved the start of the fiscal year. First, in 1843, it moved it from January 1 to July 1. And then in 1976, it moved it again, from July 1 to October 1. And yet Congress still can’t get its work done on time! Let’s just go full circle and return it to January 1st. Keep it simple!

Election Day

We have universal adult suffrage yet half of voters typically don’t bother to vote. In the nineteenth century, we had a more restricted franchise and average voter turnout was very high. Does that mean we should restrict the franchise? No. It means we should remove barriers to voting, to reduce the share of the electorate who don’t bother to participate. I would not make voting compulsory like in Australia. But I would move Election Day to a warmer time of year and make it a federal holiday. I would also have it coincide with (my proposed) Flag Day, on the second Monday in May — a beautiful time of year.

A benefit of making Election Day a federal holiday, and during a mild-weather time of year, is that it would weaken the case for early-voting and vote-by-mail schemes, which, as the reader will recall, are abolished or minimized under the ballot integrity plank.

Inauguration Day

As a logical consequence of moving election day to mid-May, we would need to move the day on which federal officers are sworn in. I would propose that each year Congress ordinarily convene on June 1st instead of January 3rd and that after each presidential election the president and vice president be sworn in on July 1st instead of January 20th. This change would require a constitutional amendment.

Elections would be held in mid-May. The transition time between elections and swearings-in would shrink from the current nine or ten weeks to just two or three. Lame-duck congressional sessions, which have a whiff of illegitimacy about them, would be a thing of the past. /1

Federal Holidays

Our current federal holiday calendar could stand an update. Think about it. We have federal holidays to honor certain groups (workers, veterans, fallen defenders), but not to honor people who are arguably just as important (e.g., taxpayers, first responders). Why?

We have holidays to honor certain illustrious individuals (George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christopher Columbus) but not to others who are surely equally illustrious (Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, to name three prominent Americans), and no holiday to honor any woman.

Meanwhile, Washington’s Birthday has quietly devolved into a noxious thing called Presidents Day. Really? Must we celebrate Millard Fillmore and Richard Nixon? How is Presidents Day different from a King’s Day or Monarch’s Day?

Most people cannot tell you what Labor Day celebrates or explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Some are offended by Columbus Day. (I am not, but I respect the fact that some people are.) And apart from July 4th, there is not a single federal holiday dedicated to America’s principles.

Surely we can do better.

Sometimes, I wonder whether we should have holidays celebrating our victories in the Civil War, the two World Wars, and/or the Cold War, but then I think better of it. Wars tend to bring out the worst in people.

Right now there are eleven federal holidays, spread out over the year. /2

They’re somewhat clumped into winter, with two in January and two in November. Five by law are observed on a Monday in order to maximize that wonderful creation, the three-day weekend. Overall, this arrangement strikes me as, well, pretty good. But I would spread it out a bit more evenly, and update a few of the holidays to downplay the emphasis on individuals and groups and play up our principles and achievements.

Here’s what I propose. Keep the five most traditional holidays, namely, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Independence Day, and Memorial Day, but eliminate the other five, namely, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. In place of those, have five new days that celebrate important American achievements and symbols. I would suggest the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Emancipation of the slaves, Civil Rights, and the American Flag. You might come up with a different list. That’s fine. But surely we can agree it’s time to freshen up the list.

Among other benefits, this schedule would give us an additional three-day weekend (Monday holiday) while reducing the overall number of holidays to ten.

Our current calendar:

  1. JAN 1     New Year’s Day                                  Fixed
  2. JAN        Martin Luther King’s Birthday    Last Monday
  3. FEB        Washington’s Birthday                  Third Monday
  4. MAY       Memorial Day                                     Last Monday
  5. JUL 4      Independence Day                          Fixed
  6. JUN 19 Juneteenth Nat’l Indep. Day Fixed /2
  7. SEP         Labor Day                                            First Monday
  8. OCT        Columbus Day                                   Second Monday
  9. NOV 11   Veterans Day                                     Fixed
  10. NOV        Thanksgiving Day                            Fourth Thursday
  11. DEC 25   Christmas Day                                  Fixed

My suggested reformed calendar:

  1. JAN 1      New Year’s Day                                    Fixed
  2. FEB         Civil Rights Day                                    Third Monday
  3. MAY        Flag Day (Election Day)              Second Monday
  4. MAY        Memorial Day                                       Last Monday
  5. JUN         Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) Third Monday
  6. JUL 4      Independence Day                             Fixed
  7. SEP         Constitution Day                                 First Monday
  8. OCT        Bill of Rights Day                                 Second Monday
  9. NOV        Thanksgiving Day                               Fourth Thursday
  10. DEC 25  Christmas Day                                      Fixed


  • Old: Calendar clumpy (two holidays in Jan., two in Nov., none in March, April, Aug.).
  • New: Calendar less clumpy (two holidays in May, none in March, April, Aug.).
  • Old: eleven holidays, with five Monday holidays.
  • New: ten holidays, with six Monday holidays.
  • Old: Fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
  • New: Fiscal year starts Jan. 1.
  • Old: Election day is first Tuesday in Nov. (Nov. 2 through 8).
  • New: Election day is second Monday in May (May 8 through 14).
  • Old: Congress convenes Jan. 3.
  • New: Congress convenes June 1.
  • Old: President inaugurated Jan. 20.
  • New: President inaugurated July 1.

Currency Images

Highlighting individuals on United States coins and currency smacks of monarchy. Traditionally the face on the currency belongs to the sovereign, for example, the Roman emperor or the British monarch. Since we’re a republic, not a monarchy, and since the American people are our sovereign, why not celebrate them? If we merely try to update the currency pantheon, we get into inevitable fights over issues of political correctness, focusing on secondary qualities like sex and ethnicity and alleged victim status rather than true greatness. In lieu of faces on our national coins and bills, I would substitute inspiring symbols, patriotic scenes, important historical events, or inspiring quotations.

Speaking of quotations, one reason to put key quotations from the Constitution on our money is that politicians might actually read them.

Okay. So here’s what I’m suggesting. Instead of the current line-up of greenbacks:

  • $1 Washington
  • $2 Jefferson
  • $5 Lincoln
  • $10 Hamilton
  • $20 Jackson
  • $50 Grant
  • $100 Franklin

… why not:

  • $1 Washington crossing the Delaware
  • $2 Lexington and Concord (‘The shot heard round the world . . . ‘)
  • $5 Lincoln at Gettysburg (‘That government of the people, by the people, for the people . . . ‘)
  • $10 The Bill of Rights (‘Congress shall make no law . . . ‘)
  • $20 The Declaration of Independence (‘We hold these truths . . . ‘)
  • $50 Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial (‘I have a dream . . . ‘)
  • $100 The signing of the Constitution (‘A republic, if you can keep it.’)

And likewise with our coins. There are many possibilities. The important thing is to shift the emphasis away from monarchical imagery toward imagery about noble actions and ideals.

State of the Union

A pet peeve. Presidents should deliver their annual State of the Union addresses in writing, as all presidents did from Jefferson through Taft. The yearly ‘SOTU’ ritual is embarrassing and ludicrous, with members of Congress jumping up and down in partisan demonstrations and presidents rudely shaming sitting Supreme Court justices to their faces on national television. The press should refuse to televise these awful displays, invitees should refuse to attend them, and the public should refuse to watch them. (Harumph.)

Joint Sessions of Congress

Another pet peeve. I hate speeches by foreigners to joint sessions of Congress. The honor of addressing the elected representatives of the American people has been reduced, through frequency, into a photo op for any foreign VIP who happens to be passing through town. Only Lafayette has deserved such an honor, in my humble opinion — and maybe Churchill.

Pledge of Allegiance

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I am not a fan of the Pledge of Allegiance as currently written. It’s too chauvinist, too much like ‘My government, right or wrong!’ I have no problem with having an official pledge, but I think its recitation should be voluntary, and just as importantly I think the wording should be true to our principles. In place of the current wording, I would substitute the ‘We hold these truths’ paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which succinctly sets forth the first principles of our republic and distinguishes us from every other nation. And besides, it’s one the more eloquent passages in the English language.

National Anthem

A final embarrassing confession. I hate ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ It has been our official national anthem since 1931. (‘Hail, Columbia,’ the song’s forgotten nineteenth-century competitor, is also pretty uninspiring.) In the place of Francis Scott Key’s vivid, but not-terribly-imaginative celebration of our flag as seen by the light of exploding mortars, I would give this honor to ‘America the Beautiful.’ If you prefer, we could make it a second, alternative anthem. (We can have  more than one.) Why? Because ‘America the Beautiful’ is a better poem, with a better melody than ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and — here’s the clincher — the damn thing is actually singable.

America, America
God shed his grace on thee
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea

America, America
God mend thine every flaw
confirm thy soul in self-control
thy liberty in law


1/ Lame-duck sessions occur when an outgoing Congress, including its defeated members, passes one or more last-minute laws that do not reflect the will of the most recent electorate.

2/ Update, June 17, 2021: Today a bill became law adding to the federal calendar the Emancipation Day holiday that I endorsed in 2013, although not under that name, but rather under the name, ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day.’ It celebrates the arrival of the news of emancipation in Texas in June of 1865. That brings the number of federal holidays to eleven, and I have updated this post accordingly. I am thrilled Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. I will confess I am less enamored of the phrase, ‘National Independence Day.’ Why? Because it sounds too much like Independence Day, July 4, and because it seems to suggest African Americans are a separate nation rather than full-fledged Americans. We are one people! This holiday, by the way, has existed informally among African Americans since 1865 and formally in a number of states since the 1930s, beginning with Texas, where it originated. There, it is called Emancipation Day formally and Juneteenth informally.

Constitutional Amendments

This plank requires one constitutional amendment, to update the starting date of federal terms of office. The date of federal elections can be changed by an act of Congress.


Better aligns our civic symbols and celebrations with our principles and ideals.

Revised: June 17, 2021.

Published: June 21, 2013.

Author: Dean Clancy.

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