The 3 Bears
3rd Monday in February
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. The act
took affect 3 years later in 1971.
One of the holidays that
was affected was Washington's Birthday, which got shifted to the third Monday in
February every year, whether it was the 22nd (which is really his birthday) or
not. (I'll get to the specifics of each of these birthdays in a second. )
Some calendars still print both Washington's
Birthday and Lincoln's Birthday on them. Some print "President's Day"
on the third Monday in February. However, the third Monday in
February is still "officially" Washington's Birthday. Why?
Technically, no President or Congress has ever legally changed the name of
the third Monday in February to be designated as "President's
Day." (Well, not yet) However, socially it has
become known as "President's Day" 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. In Los Angeles, CA a fancy ball was put on by some of
the town's most prominent residents in honor of Washington's birthday. However,
this meant that some of LA's lesser citizens were not invited, which angered
them a lot. So, they retaliated by firing a canon into the ballroom,
which resulted in several men being killed 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).
Information about the
Washington Monument can be found on our Patriotic
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 (I've been
there a few times). 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 created
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.
More about the Lincoln
Memorial is on our Patriotic Symbols page.
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.
Return to our
Our midi is "Hail To The
Partial Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs 3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003
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