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Why Abraham Lincoln's birthday isn't a federal holiday

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Jason Reed/Reuters

(Read caption) A couple share a moment during their visit to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial after midnight in Washington. Sunday is the anniversary of the birth of America's Civil War president, Abraham Lincoln.

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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. Nor is Lincoln officially remembered on a federal President’s Day in late February. That’s just not the case, despite a widespread belief to the contrary.

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.

Remember that for decades following the Civil War the South and North remained split as to how to remember its sacrifice and heroes. Days to remember the fallen arose on separate dates in the two regions. In was only with the nationalizing tragedy of World War I that these combined into the Memorial Day we now celebrate.

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