Why Abraham Lincoln's birthday isn't a federal holiday
President's Day celebrates Abraham Lincoln, right? Nope. There is no 'President's Day.' It's actually legally known only as 'Washington's Birthday,' leaving Old Abe out the cold.
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Early drafts of this bill did include a Presidents’ Day meant to supplant the existing Washington’s birthday holiday. This name change was suggested by one of the bill’s main proponents, Rep. Robert McClory, who was – you guessed it – a Republican from Illinois.Skip to next paragraph
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But the bill stalled in committee. Eventually Congressman McClory dropped his Presidents’ Day proposal to mollify lawmakers from Virginia, who wanted Washington’s prerogatives preserved, according to an account of the legislation in “Prologue,” a magazine published by the US National Archives.
Momentum was restored, and the bill passed, creating the framework of three-day federal holidays Americans enjoy today. The name of the celebration on the third Monday in February remains “Washington’s Birthday,” as is clearly stated on the cover of the legislation.
Still don’t believe us? Check out the US Office of Personnel Management list of 2012 holidays for federal workers. It lists “Washington’s Birthday,” with an asterisk, which leads to an explanation.
“Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law,” says OPM.
This bill called for the legal public holiday known as “Washington’s Birthday” to be known by that name and no other. But it also requested that the president “issue a proclamation each year recognizing the anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln and calling upon the people of the United States to observe such anniversary with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
This legislation was assigned to the House Committee on Government Reform, and there it languished, unpassed. Thus, 203 years after his birth in humble circumstances in rural Kentucky, Abe Lincoln still doesn’t have a federal day to call his own.
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