Abraham Lincoln may be the greatest of all US presidents. He ended slavery, won the Civil War, and ensured that the United States would remain united in the modern world. His face is printed on the five-dollar bill and stamped on the penny. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the nation’s iconic sites. But Lincoln’s Birthday on Feb. 12 is not a national holiday, and it never has been.
According to the federal government, the holiday observed on the third Monday in February is officially Washington’s Birthday. But many Americans believe that this holiday is now called “Presidents’ Day,” in honor of both Presidents Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays are Feb. 22 and Feb. 12, respectively. It turns out that whether you honor one or the other or both of these presidents may depend on where you live.
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It has been recorded that Lincoln’s Birthday was first celebrated as a holiday in 1866, one year after his death. Many states have a joint holiday to honor both Lincoln and George Washington, sometimes calling it Presidents’ Day.
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True, people have tried to make Lincoln’s birthday a US day of commemoration. One of the first was Julius Francis, a shopkeeper from Buffalo, N.Y. Beginning in 1874, he made the public remembrance of the 16th president his life’s mission, according to a 2003 Buffalo News article on the subject. He petitioned both Albany and Washington. New York went along and made Feb. 12 a state holiday. Washington and Congress did not.