Lincoln’s Birthday

This observance honors America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, on or around his February 12th birthday. Some states call the holiday Abraham Lincoln Day or Lincoln Day and many have incorporated the observance with President’s Day.

Traditions

Lincoln’s Birthday traditions include re-enactments, wreath laying at significant landmarks, such as Lincoln’s grave or the site of the Gettysburg Address, concerts, and other celebrations. A standard tradition includes a wreath-laying at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. It is considered a public holiday in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Many of these states close their schools and offices for the observance. Observers may also visit Mount Rushmore, where Lincoln’s likeness is carved, or use Lincoln stamps for postage.

About Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room cabin located in Hardin Country, Kentucky. His ancestors emigrated from England in the 1600’s. His father was one of the richest people in Hardin County until losing his land due to improper title holdings. To make a new start along with desiring to live in a non-slave territory, the family moved to present day Indiana, where his mother passed away from drinking tainted milk.

When his father remarried, Lincoln grew close to his stepmother and stepsiblings. The frontier life consisted of much manual labor, which Lincoln detested, making those around him believe that he was simply lazy. However, after maturing into young adulthood, he grew strong and handy with an axe, winning many wrestling competitions and other athletic events.

After the family moved to Illinois, the now highly self-educated 22-year old Lincoln decided to canoe down the Sangamon River, settling in New Salem, Illinois. He worked for a businessman, taking a flatboat of products downriver from Illinois to New Orleans, then walking home. It is in New Orleans that Lincoln experienced slavery in the South.

Lincoln had many love interests before Mary Todd. His first died of Typhoid fever before they were engaged. Next, he courted a woman named Mary Owens, who ended the relationship by not responding to one of Lincoln’s letters. Even Lincoln’s first engagement to Mary Todd, who came from a slave holding family, was troubled. After a date was set, Lincoln broke off the engagement, but the pair became engaged again after meeting at a party a year later. The pair had four sons, only one surviving into adulthood.

Abe’s first political attempts occurred in 1832, running for a position in the Illinois General Assembly. Despite his popularity, Lincoln lost, most likely due to being uneducated and not well connected. He continued on to hold the position of postmaster and county surveyor of New Salem. After self-educating himself on law, he won an 1834 campaign for a position on the state legislature.

Following this win, his self-education was enough to admit him to the state bar, moving to practice law in Springfield, Illinois. His career with the House of Representatives lasted four terms. During this time, he affiliated with the Whig party. Many of his legal cases involved transportation issues, including riverboats and other river travel issues.

A major political motivation for Lincoln was his anti-slavery stance. He was not necessarily abolitionist in the technical sense of the term, as he believed many abolitionist practices were not effective in solving the problem. After taking a break from his political career to focus on practicing law, he returned to politics. His initial efforts opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. His rival, Stephen A. Douglas, was instrumental in instituting popular sovereignty within this law, which allowed new territories to choose a stance on slavery themselves. One of his first famous speeches, called the Peoria Speech, talked of his hatred of the act and slavery itself. Although Lincoln personally despised the institution of slavery, politically, he advocated abolishing the extension of slavery rather than the practice as a whole. This placed him as a moderate on the issue of slavery.

In 1858, Lincoln gave his House Divided Speech after the Republican Party nominated him for U.S. Senate. The speech’s theme centered on Lincoln’s belief that the country would not prosper if it continued to be so divided over the issue of slavery. The speech launched both Lincoln and the issue of slavery further into the spotlight.

The Senate election pitted Lincoln against Stephen Douglas, the campaign that included the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln asserted a belief that slavery violated the beliefs of Republicanism and the Founding Fathers while Douglas stuck to the position that territories should be allowed to decide for themselves. Even though Lincoln lost the election, his performance during the campaign brought him national attention, continuing to give speeches and make impressions. In May of 1960, the Republicans nominated Lincoln for president, with Douglas as his opposition.

While many expected Lincoln to rely on giving speeches during the campaign, he did not give any, relying instead on the work of the Republican Party to garner support. Lincoln won the first presidency for the Republican Party, who presented Lincoln as a candidate of humble and hardworking origins. Following his election, southern states began to secede, foreseeing a disagreement with Lincoln over slavery and other Civil War issues. Lincoln attempted to reunite the country in order to avoid war to no avail. In April of 1861, Confederate troops fired the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, soon after the new president’s inauguration. Lincoln’s war efuded blockades, budgeting war funds, and imprisoning Confederate supporters in the North. Lincoln continued self-education on military strategies.

Notable acts by Lincoln during the Civil War, other than acting as commander-in-chief, included the Emancipation Proclamation and the Confiscation Act, which banned slavery on federal territory, and the Gettysburg Address in July of 1863. In 1864, Lincoln won reelection against General George McClellan. After Lincoln signed the 13th amendment in January, abolishing slavery, on April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War. During Lincoln’s reconstruction efforts, he was assassinated on April 11, 1865.

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