When I was in grade school (not quite half a century ago) I used to love the month of February. Not only did we typically have a class Valentine’s Day party, but there was not one but two school holidays in rapid succession: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, and George Washington’s birthday ten days later.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, we owed the second holiday to the U. S. Congress, but the first holiday came courtesy of the great state of Tennessee. That is, Washington’s Birthday was a federal holiday–and had been since the 1880s–but Lincoln’s Birthday was a state holiday, observed in parts of the country and not in others. On the eve of WWII, it was an official holiday in twenty-six states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Alaska.
The number of states with a Lincoln holiday fell sharply after 1971. The culprit was the passage that year of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, a pragmatic measure that moved a number of federal holidays to the nearest Monday, primarily to generate more three-day weekends for federal employees. The act shifted observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday of the month, and although merchants and advertisers soon began referring to the holiday as “Presidents’ Day” (or “President’s Day,” or “Presidents Day”), there is technically no federal Presidents’ Day holiday, and the day off many of us will get next Monday (February 15th) is technically thanks to the federal observance of George Washington’s Birthday, although many of us assume that the Monday holiday was intended to honor both presidents.
At any rate, by 1990, the number of states with a Lincoln’s Birthday holiday had fallen from twenty-six to ten, and now it has dwindled to four: New York, Connecticut, Missouri, and (of course), the state with “The Land of Lincoln” on its license plates where I now reside, Illinois.
Even though most of us don’t remember Lincoln’s birthday any more, my new friend Wayne Shepherd does. After more than three decades with Moody Broadcasting in Chicago, Wayne is now the host of several nationally syndicated radio programs and hosts a weekly thirty-minute podcast called First Person with Wayne Shepherd. With Lincoln’s birthday in mind, Wayne invited me to his studio not long ago to discuss our nation’s sixteenth president.
If you’re interested, you can listen to our conversation here.
Happy Lincoln’s Birthday, and do remember this wise word of warning from the man himself: