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The Meaning of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday



Many Americans would be surprised to learn that Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1809, has never been celebrated as a federal holiday. The day is often associated (erroneously) with Presidents Day, officially Washington’s Birthday and celebrated on the third Monday in February. But even without an official national holiday, Lincoln remains among the most admired American presidents. His face is printed on the five-dollar bill and stamped on the penny. He has national shrines in three states, including one of America’s most iconic landmarks—the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

What accounts for our extraordinary interest in Abraham Lincoln? In this ebook, we examine the words and deeds of our sixteenth president. The first chapter explores the origins and traditions of celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The second chapter looks at the life and career of Lincoln: his improbable rise from humblest origins; his statesmanship during the Civil War, and his tragic death. The final chapter raises questions about how we today are to remember Lincoln.

Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion. Readers are also encouraged to see our “Lincoln and the Constitution” curriculum and video conversations, created in conjunction with the AEI Program on American Citizenship.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday: An American Holiday
The Origins and Traditions of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Holiday
Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln Centennial Address
Booker T. Washington, An Address on Abraham Lincoln
Barack Obama, Address on Lincoln’s 200th Birthday

The Career of Abraham Lincoln
A Timeline of Lincoln’s Life

A. Young Lincoln
James Baldwin, “The Kentucky Home,” from Four Great Americans
William H. Herndon, “A Stepmother’s Recollection”
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to J. W. Fell
Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address

B. Lincoln and the Slavery Question
Abraham Lincoln, Excerpt from the Eulogy of Henry Clay
Abraham Lincoln, Excerpt from the Peoria Speech
Abraham Lincoln, House Divided Speech
Abraham Lincoln, Excerpt from the Cooper Union Address
Abraham Lincoln, Farewell Address

C. President and Commander-in-Chief
Article II, U.S. Constitution
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address
Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session
Abraham Lincoln, Open Letter to Horace Greeley
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Chiefly About War-Matters by a Peaceable Man”
Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Erastus Corning and Others
Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the 166th Ohio Regiment
James Russell Lowell, Excerpt from the “The President’s Policy”
Alexander McClure, from Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

D. Last Speeches
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
Abraham Lincoln, Last Public Address

APPENDIX: Caitrin Nicol Keiper, “A Very Peculiar God”

E. Assassination
Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My Captain!”
Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d”
Julia Ward Howe, “Crown His Blood-Stained Pillow”
Herman Melville, “Martyr”

Abraham Lincoln Assessed and Remembered
A. Great Emancipator 
Frederick Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln
John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Emancipation Group”
Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Lincoln”
Langston Hughes, “Lincoln Monument: Washington”
Martin Luther King Jr., Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Address

B. Man of the People
Mark Twain, “A Lincoln Memorial”
Edwin Markham, “Lincoln, the Man of the People”
Carl Sandburg, from The People, Yes
Anonymous, Sonnet
Edwin Arlington Robinson, “The Master”

C. Savior of the Union
Zachary Gold, “The Answer”
Mary Raymond Shipman, The Perfect Tribute”
Dwight Eisenhower, Centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Leon R. Kass, “Lincoln’s Re-founding of the Nation”
Walter Berns, “Lincoln at Two Hundred”

ABOUT THE COVER: George Henry Story, Abraham Lincoln, 1915

WATCH: At a discussion hosted by the AEI Program on American Citizenship, What So Proudly We Hail editor Leon R. Kass and Walter Berns (professor emeritus, Georgetown University) discussed Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln and the lasting impact of our 16th president's words and deeds.

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