President's Day

President's Day

President’s Day

In the past, the actual birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, February 22nd and February 12th, were commemorated individually, and were occasions to reflect on the strengths of character, and commitment to the welfare of every American that these two men embodied. In 1800, the year following George Washington’s death, a nation in mourning celebrated his birthday for the first time, and in 1885 the holiday became official. In 1971 President Nixon signed a bill adding Lincoln’s birthday to the holiday, as well as permanently fixing it on the third Monday in February, to give deserving American workers a three-day weekend. Now, we’re in favor of three-day weekends, but there is s singularity to a birthday that a general holiday can never replace. Perhaps something was diminished.

Representative Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III (1756–1818) of Virginia—former cavalry commander in the Revolutionary War, later governor of Virginia, and father of Robert E. Lee—delivered Washington’s funeral oration before a joint session of both houses of Congress. Here’s a short excerpt…

Possessing a clear and penetrating mind, a strong and sound judgment, calmness and temper for deliberation, with invincible firmness and perseverance in resolutions maturely formed; drawing information from all; acting from himself, with incorruptible integrity and unvarying patriotism; his own superiority and the public confidence alike marked him as the man designed by Heaven to lead in the great political as well as military events which have distinguished the era of his life.

On February 11, 1861, one day before his birthday, Lincoln boarded a special Presidential train at the Great Western Depot in Springfield, Illinois, to begin the journey to his inauguration, a journey that would end four years later at Ford’s Theater. He briefly addressed the small crowd.

My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
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