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…
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.