Happy Birthday Abe, or is it?
It was Abraham Lincoln’s 214th Birthday on Sunday, Feb. 12. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum celebrated by offering visitors free admission and hosted many community organizations. The Abraham Lincoln Association hosted the 214th Birthday Banquet and Celebration on Sunday, Feb. 19. While many people celebrate Lincoln’s birthday throughout the country, there was no federal holiday honoring the 14th president’s birthday.
Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm near present-day Hodgenville, Kentucky. In an 1860 memorandum, he wrote this about his birth: “I was born Feb. 12. 1809 in then Hardin County Kentucky,” continuing, “at a point within the now recently formed county of Larue, a mile, or a mile & a half from where Hodginsville now is. My parents being dead and my own memory not serving, I know no means of identifying the precise locality. It was on Nolin Creek.”
Historically, it is common for notable US figures to have their birthdays honored as a national holiday. Examples of this include Martin Luther King Jr. and Christopher Columbus. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s notability, there is no holiday celebrating his birthday on a federal level. The states that currently recognize Lincoln’s birthday through a designated holiday on February 12 include Illinois, California, Connecticut, Missouri, and New York. Some states claim President’s Day, held every third Monday of February, as a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday, but nationally, it is recognized as a holiday to recognize all US presidents or George Washington’s Birthday, which is Feb. 22.
Not much is known about how (or if) the Lincolns celebrated Abraham’s birthday while he was alive. Throughout time, there have been several notable celebrations of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. According to the Abraham Lincoln Association, a national celebration of Lincoln’s one-hundredth birthday was organized in 1909:
“Their task seemed simple and straightforward: to hold the largest and most memorable birthday celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ favorite son, and Springfield’s most notable citizen, Abraham Lincoln. It was a task they took to heart. The largest hall in Springfield, the Illinois State Armory, was reserved and notably decorated in the appropriate patriotic bunting. Senator Cullom … secure(ed) the services of James Bryce, the British Ambassador to the United States, as the keynote speaker with J.J. Jusserand, the French Ambassador to the United States as an invited guest. Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the Sixteenth President was also invited. He agreed to come only if he did not have to speak. And finally, William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator best known for his “Cross of Gold” speech and former presidential candidate was also among the dignitaries at the head table.
Over 1,200 persons attended the patriarchal gala. Men wore formal attire and were seated on the main floor of the auditorium. Women were consigned to the balcony. After a sumptuous meal and formal remarks, individuals on the main floor indulged in cigars, cigarettes and brandy.”
Today, A common tradition is shared among those that chose to honor Abe’s birthday. The day is marked by traditional wreath-laying ceremonies at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, and the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois.
Lincoln once said, “if you want your name to be remembered after your death, either do something worth writing or write something worth reading.” Regardless of the breadth at which his birthday is officially celebrated, after 214 years, he is clearly remembered. Happy Birthday, Abe.