Lincoln's Birthday

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Lincoln's Birthday

Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: February 12
Where Celebrated: United States
Symbols and Customs: Gettysburg Address, Lincoln Memorial
Related Holidays: Juneteenth, Washington's Birthday

ORIGINS

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, was born on February 12, 1809. Lincoln began his political career in the Illinois state legislature, to which he was elected when he was only twenty-five years old. In 1837 he became a lawyer and moved from his home in New Salem to Springfield, where he met and married Mary Todd in 1842. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, but then he left politics and went back to his law career in Illinois.

Eventually he was lured into politics again. Although he lost his race against Stephen A. Douglas for the U.S. Senate in 1858, he so impressed the public with his speaking ability during a series of debates against Douglas that in 1860 he was nominated at the Republican Convention for the presidency and elected in November of that year.

As president, Lincoln's stand on the issue of slavery was clear: He was against it, and he believed that the government would not survive if half the states allowed slavery and the other half didn't. Less than six weeks after he was inaugurated, the Civil War (1861-65) began. Although his primary concern was to keep the nation whole, he soon realized that nothing would be resolved as long as the institution of slavery remained in force. He issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed five million slaves, on January 1, 1863.

Lincoln was elected for a second term in November 1864. But on April 15, 1865, just six days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox and the Civil War ended, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth as he sat with his wife watching a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington. After his death, a funeral train carried Lincoln's body through the country for two weeks, and crowds gathered at every station to pay tribute to their slain president. This popular feeling for Lincoln remains strong to this day, as evidenced by the number of books, plays, and poems that are still being written about him.

Lincoln's Birthday is a holiday that commemorates a significant historical event. Peoples throughout the world commemorate significant events in their histories through holidays and festivals.. Often, these are events that are important for an entire nation and become widely observed. The marking of such anniversaries serve not only to honor the values represented by the person or event commemorated, but also to strengthen and reinforce communal bonds of national, cultural, or ethnic identity. Victorious, joyful, and traumatic events are remembered through historic holidays. The commemorative expression reflects the original event through festive celebration or solemn ritual. Reenactments are common activities at historical holiday and festival gatherings, seeking to bring the past alive in the present.

Lincoln's actual birthday, February 12, is a legal holiday in fifteen states, while others observe it on the second Monday in February. Some states combine it with WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY and observe it on the third Monday in February as either Presidents' Day or Washington-Lincoln Day. A special observance is held in Lincoln's long-time home town of Springfield, Illinois, where members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other patriotic groups make an annual pilgrimage to his tomb.

Race Relations Sunday is always celebrated on the Sunday nearest February 12. Commemorating the role Lincoln played in freeing the slaves during the Civil War, this occasion is observed by Roman Catholic and Jewish as well as Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Gettysburg Address

Perhaps the most famous of all Lincoln's speeches, the Gettysburg Address was delivered the year after the Emancipation Proclamation, at the dedication of the national cemetery at the Gettysburg battlefield. It is a poignant and inspiring speech that has been praised all over the world as an example of beautifully written English prose, even though Lincoln had no time to prepare it and spoke from a few notes scribbled on a piece of paper. It begins with the words every American recognizes: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

The recitation of the Gettysburg Address is a popular way to observe Lincoln's Birthday, particularly in schools.

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC was designed by New York architect Henry Bacon in the classic Greek style, and the huge statue of Lincoln seated on a chair inside was the work of sculptor Daniel Chester French. The building, which is located at the end of a long reflecting pool, was dedicated on MEMORIAL DAY in 1922. Cut into the marble walls are the words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, as well as the more famous GETTYSBURG ADDRESS .

One of the best known commemorations of Lincoln's birthday takes place at the 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.

FURTHER READING

Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Humphrey, Grace. Stories of the World's Holidays. 1923. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. McSpadden, J. Walker. The Book of Holidays. New York: Crowell, 1958. Schaun, George and Virginia, and David Wisniewski. American Holidays and Special Days. 3rd ed. Lanham: Maryland Historical Press, 2002. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITES

Abraham Lincoln Online showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln.html

Library of Congress lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/mar04.html

National Park Service www.nps.gov/linc

Lincoln's (Abraham) Birthday

February 12
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, also called the Great Emancipator, the Rail Splitter, and Honest Abe, was born on Feb. 12, 1809. President throughout the Civil War, he is known for his struggle to preserve the union, his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his assassination less than two weeks after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865 ( see Appomattox Day).
A wreath-laying ceremony and reading of the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., are traditional on Feb. 12. Because the Republican party reveres Lincoln as its first president, Republicans commonly hold Lincoln Day fundraising dinners, as the Democrats hold Jackson Day dinners.
Lincoln's actual birthday, Feb. 12, is a legal holiday in 11 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia. In most other states, Lincoln's and George Washington's birthdays are combined for a legal holiday on the third Monday in February called either Presidents' Day or Washington-Lincoln Day.
CONTACTS:
Lincoln Memorial
National Park Service
900 Ohio Dr., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20024
202-426-6841
www.nps.gov
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20540
202-707-5000; fax: 202-707-8366
www.loc.gov
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, pp. 134, 283
AnnivHol-2000, p. 26
BkFest-1937, p. 15
BkHolWrld-1986, Feb 12
DictDays-1988, p. 68
HolSymbols-2009, p. 511
References in periodicals archive ?
February 12th: Campaign concludes on Abraham Lincoln's birthday with the Emancipation Concert at the Conga Room and Emancipation Proclamation by the City of Los Angeles.
Of course, we can't overlook Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12, because he is known as the "Father of Freedom.
For example, residents annually celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday on the day after Thanksgiving, even though the 16th president's birthday falls in February.

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