Library 101: President's Day

Posted on: Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
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by Jody Hanshew

A couple of our most revered presidents have birthdays this month, George Washington on February 22nd and Abraham Lincoln on the 12th.  The Federal Government combined the two birthdays into one in 1971 when a law was passed to create uniform Monday holidays that gave federal employees 3-day weekends.  The new holiday was set for the third Monday in February and this year we celebrated Presidents Day on the 17th. 

This month also marks the 100th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Lincoln Memorial.   Officials dug the first shovel of dirt at noon on February 12th, Lincoln’s true birthday.  (The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, p. 23)  Congress first approved an act to create the Lincoln Memorial Association in 1867 but it wasn’t until 1901 that efforts were made to solicit designs for the memorial.  After several more resolutions and bills and the approval of a budget of $2M the project was started.  The Memorial was dedicated in 1922. (The Twenties in America, p. 521)  Henry Bacon designed the memorial based on a Greek temple design and tried to represent as much of the United States as possible in the construction.  Thirty-six columns represented the states at the time of Lincoln’s death.  The names of the other states were added to the upper roof.  The stone materials came from all across the United States, including pink marble from Tennessee.

Perhaps because of Lincoln’s role in freeing the slaves the Memorial has become a symbol for civil rights.  The famed African American opera singer, Marian Anderson, sang in front of the Memorial in 1939 after she was banned from Constitution Hall because of her race. Her performance was broadcast over the radio to millions of listeners.  Martin Luther King used the Memorial as a backdrop for his “I have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.

Here are some interesting facts about Washington and Lincoln. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731.  In 1750, the British Parliament changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar which, after some adjusting for the vernal equinox, changed his birthday to February 22nd.  (Facts about the Presidents, p.9)  One of Washington’s bodyguards was involved in a conspiracy to kidnap him in 1776.  Washington had to borrow 600 pounds to make the trip from Mount Vernon to New York for his inauguration but when he died his estate was valued at more than $530,000. Most of the value came from land that he held in Virginia, Kentucky, the Northwest Territory, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Abraham Lincoln ran unsuccessfully twice for senator, and once for vice president before he was elected president.  Lincoln enlisted as a soldier on April 19, 1832 and was elected captain of his company.  He was mustered out on May 27 and re-enlisted as a private two times before finally ending his service on July 10th.  Lincoln received a patent for an inflatable flotation device that would allow boats to raise their hulls higher in the water to pass more easily over shoals. He is the only president to hold a patent.  (p. 107)

The library has many collections containing the papers, letters, and other writings by and about both men. Many of George Washington’s writings can also be found in the library database: Early American Imprints.  Several of our print holdings are listed below.

Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings   E 457.92 1989
Collected Works  / Abraham Lincoln    E457.91 .L7
Messages & Papers of the Presidents   Gov Docs AE 2.114:1789-1915
The Papers of George Washington. Presidential Series     E312.72 1987