Sunday, February 12, 2012

Did J. Davis Ever Celebrate Lincoln's B'day? (If Only He Had Moved to California ...)

Honest Abe couldn't catch a break when it came to holidays.
Postcard from the collection of Russell Hughes. 

Happy Lincoln's Birthday!

Growing up in the West, we were happy to celebrate the birthday of Honest Abe, since we got to take the day off from school on any February 12th that arrived on a school day. Later in the month, we also got to take February 22nd off, for Washington's Birthday. What a great month, was February, to my friends and I!

Leave it to the federal government to step in and curtail this joyous excess.

Federal meddling in our days off is just one of the curious aspects of February holidays. There is also the disparity between the Julian and Gregorian calendars and their impacts on poor Washington's Birthday. (More on that in our next blog post.)

In the case of Lincoln, the issue was that in the first century after the Civil War, not everybody in America liked Honest Abe enough to want to celebrate his birthday. Many of the states of the Old Confederacy, for example, preferred to mark the birthday of Jefferson Davis (and several still do).

                There is no question that Illinois is happy to mark the birthday of this son of Springfield. 
                                      Another vintage postcard courtesy of Russell Hughes.
So, it wasn't until 1874 that a movement began to make Lincoln's birthday a legal holiday. There were many attempts over the years to persuade Congress to take action on it, but they were never successful.

In 1909, as the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth approached, Teddy Roosevelt sought to issue a proclamation making February 12, 1909, a legal holiday. But Roosevelt was a Republican and Southern Democrats in Congress had enough power to stall the whole thing until February 11, 1909. Thus, by the time President Roosevelt was able to issue his proclamation, it was too late to have much of an impact.

After that, some states began to mark February 12 as a Lincoln's Birthday State Holiday--as my home state of California did. Ultimately, about thirty states did so. Alabama, where my father grew up, was not one of them!

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act--effective 1971--which moved the Washington's Birthday celebration (honored on the 22nd though he was born on the 11th--as I said, more about that in my next post) to the third Monday in February. States that had marked two holidays in February could now consolidate the two into one and take the holidays on a Monday, giving everybody a three-day weekend.

President Nixon signed the proclamation, naming the holiday "Presidents' Day." Which was nice--though it did separate the men (Lincoln and Washington) from their birthdays. Not to mention that it also ruined the month for happy school children (in states that celebrated both days).

But the federal government can only proclaim days off for federal workers. So it was still up to the states to decide what to do.

Many states still call the third Monday in February "Washington's Birthday." Some states call it "Washington-Lincoln Day." Some call it "Presidents' Day,"along with the federal government.

Since this is America, we're allowed to disagree.

My cousins, who live in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia still call me "Yankee," for example.  I'm just pleased they are now leaving out the "Da---d" part of that phrase!

(Up next, an explanation of the eleven days we lost in the 18th century and why this confused everybody [except George Washington] about when to celebrate Washington's Birthday.)

Add to 
Google Reader or Homepage
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News


linda said...

how lucky am i to be born between honest and abe and cupid! :-)

Robin Chapman said...

You could be like my Aunt Ruth and have a birthday on the 28th, so you only would have to celebrate it every four years! Happy birthday on the 13th to you.

linda said...

thanks you but didn't you mean your aunt ruth's birthday is the 29th? true story, some friends of mine from church, had 2 children born on the 29th. local paper even did a story!

Don Meuler said...

It's so confusing now - I never know when to buy a mattress...

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks Linda, that is what I meant. She has to celebrate it on the 28th. Re Don and his mattress: whenever George Washington needs a new bridge, that's when you need to buy a mattress!