As late in the day that it is, I can't let February 12 go by without, at least, a brief mention of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.
I was born during Lincoln's sesquicentennial year and, when I was a kid, Lincoln's birthday was celebrated as a holiday, just as Washington's birthday was 10 days later each February. Lincoln's Birthday was not always a federal holiday but it was definitely a state holiday in the northern part of the United States. This was before Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday were merged by Congress into the more amorphous "Presidents' Day," to be celebrated on the third Monday in February. The purpose of Presidents' Day is, I suppose, that we remember the achievements not only of Washington and Lincoln but equally those of Millard Fillmore and James Garfield.
In 1968, Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen proposed a law that would declare Lincoln's Birthday a federal holiday. The bill did not pass:
Dirksen, who as a Member of Congress from 1933 to 1947 represented the same district in Illinois that had once been represented by Abraham Lincoln, made a number of speeches about the 16th President throughout his long political career. The last of these was delivered on February 12, 1968, about 18 months before Dirksen died in office and just months before the turmoil we remember from 1968 (the Tet Offensive; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy; and the riots during the Democratic convention in Chicago, among other things). Here is the text of Dirken's remarks:
A man of all generations -- son of Illinois — president of the United States — Abraham Lincoln was each and all of these, but he was a great deal more as well. For this was a man of many parts, all of them human and most of them great.Taking my cue from the many merchants who use Presidents' Day weekend as an opportunity to sell their goods, I am not shy to mention here that I have created a few Lincoln products that are now for sale at my CafePress shop. The image on each of these items is a black-and-white photograph of the Lincoln statue near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, England. (Lincoln's statue stands alongside those of other prominent figures, including Winston Churchill and Jan Smuts.)
This was the politician who in 30 long years of devoted service in his party’s ranks came to realize that politics, like life, is the art of achieving the possible and who learned that he had nothing whatever in common with some political platforms whose planks were platitudes and with men of no discernible principle.
This, too, was the husband and father whose home life was torn by strife and dissension and the tragic death of children.
But this, too, was the president — the president and commander-in-chief … Devoted above all else to preserving the union ‘with the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired.” So he said; so he did.
And in so doing, he brought freedom to the enslaved. As he wrote in his annual message following the Emancipation Proclamation: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom for the free, honorable alike in what we give and in what we preserve.”
This was Abraham Lincoln, politician, husband and father, president and commander-in-chief, martyr for all mankind.
Now, in 1968, it seems possible that we shall never see his like again. This is a sobering thought, but it should be a kindling one. For upon us now, as a people, has been laid perhaps the greatest responsibility any nation was ever asked to shoulder, yet certainly not greater than we can bear. Our days are no longer than were Lincoln’s, our nights are no darker, and if there is any difference between his time and this it lies in the tremendous advantage that is ours, that this son of Illinois stood so tall before us.
You can choose among an Abraham Lincoln calendar print, Abraham Lincoln mousepad, tile coaster and framed tile, Abraham Lincoln wall clock and throw pillow, or a keepsake box and a personal journal.
I am sure that Lincoln would not mind the commercialization of the holiday that bears his name (or at least his occupation). After all, didn't he once say this?
That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and, hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.Even if he didn't, he should have.
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