President's Day combines
both Washington's birthday and Lincoln's birthday, since both happen in the
month of February very close together. Why was this done?
In 1968, congress (Legislation # 15951) passed a bill that changed several federal holidays, in
order for them to fall on a Monday, thus creating a 3-day weekend.   One of
the holidays that was affected was Washington's Birthday, which shifted to the
third Monday in February every year, whether it was the 22nd or not (which is
really his birthday). I'll get to the specifics of each of these birthdays in a
The act took affect 3 years later in 1971, and while some calendars still print Washington's Birthday
and Lincoln's Birthday on them, the third Monday in February is now
popularly (and even legally in some cases) officially "President's
Day."   This day is now set aside to not only honor both President
George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday, but to pay respect
and acknowledge all the other men who have served as our presidents.
Usually only federal employees (and companies connected with them) take the day off as a
holiday.   President's Day today has mostly turned into a commercial event
where stores take advantage of the holiday weekend and have sales to empty out
their shelves of midwinter stock.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. He became the first president of the United States
in 1789 (and re-elected in 1792). This also made him the
commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
He has always been an important figure in American history and literature. And,
some say even a legend in his own time because people were celebrating his
birthday while he was still alive!
But, the celebrations were usually held on February 11. The date wasn't shifted to February 22 until 1796
when the New Style or Gregorian calendar was adopted.
The first town to sponsor a public celebration of George Washington's birthday was Richmond, Virginia in
1782 (even before he was president). Celebrations became more popular
during his first term in office, but then faded off with the development of the
two political parties, then called the Federalists (Washington was sympathetic
towards this side) and the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans (who thought
celebrations like this were offensive). These partisan feelings remained
until Washington died in 1799. Congress then passed a resolution calling
on the nation to observe February 22, 1800 with appropriate activities.
But, law or not, the observance of Washington's Birthday didn't really catch on until 1832, 100 years
after his birth! The most publicized celebration happened in 1850.
Los Angeles, CA held a fancy ball in honor of Washington's birthday, but
excluded some of LA's lesser citizens. These people then retaliated by firing a canon
into the ballroom, killing several men and wounding many others.
I have to briefly mention the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and then
proclaiming, "I cannot tell a lie" admitting he did it. Well, the
story can't be authenticated. The story first appeared in the 1806 edition
of The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington by Parson
Mason Weems. But, this cherry tree and the hatchet that he supposedly
used, today are a symbol of the honesty and forthrightness that George Washington
was admired for. Another tale is that he threw a silver dollar across the
Potomac River (why I'm not sure).
As I stated above, President's Day has turned into a commercial day. So these legends are used also
for sales slogans like "We're chopping our prices" or "Silver
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. He was the 16th president of the United
States. At the age of 25, he was elected to the Illinois State
Legislature. In 1837 he became a lawyer and moved from New Salem, Illinois
to Springfield, Illinois. It was there he met and married, Mary Todd in
1842. From 1847 to 1849 he was a member of the U.S. House of
Representatives. Then he left politics and returned to his law practice in
For whatever his reasons, he got back into politics, but lost in his race for U.S. Senate in 1858 to
Stephan A. Douglas. But, although he lost this election, Lincoln impressed
the public during the campaign with his speaking while participating in a series of debates
against Douglas. So, in 1860 he was nominated at the Republican Convention for
the presidency. In November he won!
It's pretty common knowledge that Lincoln was totally against slavery. He felt that the government
wouldn't stand a chance if half the country allowed it while the other half
didn't. Less than 6 weeks after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as
President of the United States, the Civil War began (1861-1865). Although
his priority was to keep the nation whole, Lincoln realized this wasn't going to
happen as long as slavery continued. So, he issued his famous Emancipation
Proclamation, which freed as of January 1, 1863, 5 million slaves.
On November 1864, Lincoln won a second term as president. But, on April 15, 1865 (six days after General
Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox ending the Civil War) President Lincoln
was shot by John Wilkes Booth while he and his wife watched a performance at the
Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
After President Lincoln's death, a funeral train carried his body for two weeks throughout the
country. Crowds gathered at every station to pay tribute. Today, feelings still
remain strong for him, as expressed in the number of books, plays,
poems and movies written about him.
In 14 states, February 12 (Lincoln's Birthday) is actually a legal holiday, while others will
observe it on the 2nd Monday in February. And yet other states will combine it
with George Washington's Birthday (on February 22) and observe it also on the
3rd Monday in February as President's Day or, Washington-Lincoln Day.
However, in Springfield, Illinois, a special observance is held where American Legion, Veterans of
Foreign Wars, and members of other patriotic groups make an annual pilgrimage to
Race Relations Sunday is also celebrated on the Sunday nearest February 12. Commemorating the role
Lincoln played in freeing the slaves, this occasion is observed by Roman
Catholic and Jewish, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches.
The Gettysburg Address is the most famous of Lincoln's speeches. It was delivered a year after the
Emancipation Proclamation, at the dedication of the national cemetery at the
Gettysburg battlefield. This poignant and inspiring speech has been
praised all over the world as an example of beautifully written English prose,
even though Lincoln had not time to prepare it and spoke from a few notes
scribbled on a piece of paper. It begins with the infamous words..."Four
score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new
nation conceived in liberty and dedicated tot he proposition that all men are
The Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, D.C. was designed by New York architect Henry Bacon in classic Greek
style. The statue inside, however, with Lincoln sitting on a chair was
designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French. The memorial is located at the
end of the reflecting pool was dedicated on Memorial Day 1922.
One of the most popular commemorations of Lincoln's Birthday takes place at his Memorial, where
government officials and foreign diplomats led by the president of the United
States or his representative, gather at noon to place wreaths before the massive
statue of Lincoln. The president usually issues a Lincoln's Birthday Address
focusing on the nation's accomplishments and shortcomings in the area of race
relations and civil rights.
Information from: Brownie Locks
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