Monday, Feb. 17, Americans across the country will celebrate Presidents Day. While many citizens will relax and spend time with their families, it is also important for us to reflect on the historical significance of this holiday.
The original holiday, on Feb. 22, was in commemoration of George Washingtons birthday in 1796. George Washington, known as The Father of Our Country, was the first President of the United States of America. He played a major role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, declaring the Colonies to be free and independent states. He fought valiantly in the American Revolution and led the Colonists to freedom as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He was a wise and courageous man admired for his honesty and strength of character. By the early 19th century, Washingtons Birthday had taken firm root in the American experience as a bona fide national holiday. Its traditions included Birthnight Balls in various regions, speeches and receptions given by prominent public figures, and lots of revelry in taverns throughout the land.
Abraham Lincoln, another revered president, was born on February 12. He was our 16th President and is known as The Great Emancipator. Lincoln was nicknamed Honest Abe for his honesty and fairness. Coming from very humble beginnings, Abraham Lincoln is the finest example of what any American can achieve with hard work and the ambition to learn and to lead. He took office on March 4, 1861. Six weeks later, on April 12, 1861 the Civil War broke out when Fort Sumter was fired upon by the Confederacy. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation giving freedom to slaves held in any state in the Confederacy that did not return to the Union by the end of the year. The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 and six days later, on April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the actor, John Wilkes Booth. The first formal observance of his birthday took place in 1865, the year after his assassination, when both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address. Slavery was not officially abolished until the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution on December 18, 1865, after Lincolns death.
Until 1971, both February 12 and February 22 were observed as federal public holidays to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In 1971 President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single federal public holiday, Presidents Day, to be observed on the third Monday of February, honoring all past presidents of the United States of America.
I hope that you and your family have a safe and pleasant holiday next Monday and that you take a few moments to reflect about our past presidents and the important things they were able to accomplish for our country. Their dedication and leadership throughout history have preserved the freedoms our ancestors fought for; the very freedoms we enjoy today.
The strong working relationship between City Hall, businesses and residents we serve is yet another example of why OFallon is such a great community in which to live.
-By Gary L. Graham, Mayor of O'Fallon