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By: Rose Boerner, Board Member
For: Red Rock News
Date: February 12, 2010

It’s Presidents’ Day, by George!

Is the third Monday in February Washington's Birthday or Presidents' Day?  Is Lincoln’s Birthday a separate holiday?  How can I learn more about each of these presidents?  The answer to these questions can be found in the reference section at the Sedona Public Library (SPL) which includes three separate encyclopedias under Dewey 031; in databases such as those from the Arizona State Library that provide access to six different Grolier encyclopedias and are available through the SPL’s web site; and in individual books on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln available at SPL and through the Yavapai Library Network.

By using the Library’s resources, I was able to find the information I was seeking: Presidents’ Day is an annual holiday observed in the U.S. to honor the nation’s Presidents, especially George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  It is celebrated on the 3rd Monday in February, which is also called Washington’s Birthday.  Many states adopted Presidents’ Day instead to honor not only Washington but other Presidents as well. 

Washington's Birthday was originally implemented as a federal holiday in the District of Columbia by Congress in 1880 to honor our first President.  The holiday was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22nd.  On January 1, 1971, it was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th celebrates the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president and one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history.  Lincoln’s Birthday is a public holiday in five states on February 12th.  Some states (including Arizona) observe the day as part of Presidents’ Day on the third Monday of February.

There are many books available through the Library on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln that provide information on their lives and achievements.

Books on George Washington state that he was born on February 22, 1732, and he served two terms as President from 1789 to 1797.  Before he became president, he played important roles in the military, leading the American Continental Army to victory over the British in 1783. Washington is often seen as the father of the United States and is probably the best known American politician ever.  Washington died on December 14, 1799, at age 67. The funeral oration delivered by Henry Lee stated that of all Americans, he was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." 

To learn more about Washington’s achievements, his role as a general, and his part in the writing of the Constitution, read “Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington” by Richard Brookhiser.  Another book, “George Washington” by James MacGregor Burns, examines the contributions of America's first President, tracing his accomplishments as a Revolutionary War hero and explaining how his decisions as President established precedents for the future governing of America.  A third book, “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis, offers a personal look at America's premier Founding Father, revealing a man with incredible energy, stamina, integrity, and vision as well as one who could be quite insecure, controlling, and shortsighted.

The books on Abraham Lincoln will reveal that he was born on February 12, 1809, and he began his political career in Illinois in 1832.  He joined the newly formed Republican Party in 1854 and was nationally recognized during the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas despite Douglas’ win in the race for U.S. Senator. Lincoln was elected President in 1860 and was able to rally most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause during the Civil War (1861-65).  Lincoln is known for his struggle to preserve the Union and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865, which was less than two weeks after the Confederacy surrendered.

Lincoln considered the Emancipation Proclamation to be the culmination of his life’s work and his most enduring achievement – “the one thing that would make people remember that he had lived.”  Many consider Abraham Lincoln the most eloquent President our country has ever known.  The book, “The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words” by Ronald C. White, is a study of Lincoln that draws on his own speeches and writings to chronicle four key years of his life from the perspective of the important events and crises of a seminal period in American history.

Through the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address, and others, Lincoln used his words to hold our divided country together during his presidency.  For a description of the events and motivations that led to Lincoln's famous speech, dedicating the Gettysburg cemetery to the fallen soldiers, read “Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Four Score and More…” by Barbara S. Feinberg. 

For a different perspective on Lincoln, I recommend reading “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.  This is a myth-shattering work of interpretive history that chronicles how Lincoln’s battles with depression contributed to his remarkable achievements.  Yet another perspective can be found in “Lincoln’s Virtues” by William Lee Miller, which provides an incisive discussion of Lincoln's development as a person and a politician.

Here are two more books on Lincoln that you may want to read:  (1) “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, centers on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history; and (2) “Why Lincoln Matters: Today More Than Ever” by Mario Matthew Cuomo, offers a politicized treatment of Lincoln’s legacy, arguing that the founder of the Republican Party would scarcely recognize the values of the current incarnation of his party.

As we commemorate Presidents’ Day on February 15th, let’s reflect on the contributions and achievements of Washington, Lincoln and other Presidents, and remember the legacy of our founding fathers in our ongoing search for freedom, equality, and opportunity.

Rose Boerner
Rose Boerner, author of this week's article,
is Secretary of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Nominating Committee of the Sedona Public Library.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.