Lincoln’s Birthday

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born in a single-room log cabin on Sinking Spring Farm in LaRue County, Kentucky on February 12, 1809. He was the son of Thomas Lincoln, an illiterate pioneer farmer, and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who died when Abraham was nine years old. It was Thomas Lincoln’s second wife, Sarah Bush Johnston who, while illiterate herself, recognized Abraham’s “uncommon natural talents” and encouraged his famous bookishness.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, Hodgenville, Larue County, KY. Historic American Buildings Survey, creator; Lester Jones, photographer, August 22, 1940. Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division

Self-taught and from humble origins, Abraham Lincoln became one of the most revered and uniquely appealing United States Presidents. Known as Honest Abe, the Rail-splitter, and the Great Emancipator, Lincoln was a skilled orator who preserved the Union during the American Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. His assassination in 1865 contributed to Lincoln’s legendary place in American history and culture.

Despite his stature among many Americans as one of the greatest United States presidents, only a small number of U.S. states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, and New York, observe Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 as a legal, public holiday. In other states, Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated in combination with President George Washington’s birthday on the third Monday of each February. The combined federal holiday is officially named Washington’s Birthday but is also known as Presidents Day.

Abraham Lincoln. Between 1861 and 1865. Liljenquest Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Washington’s Birthday was first declared a federal holiday in 1879 by an Act of Congress. The Uniform Holidays Act of 1968 changed the date of commemoration from Washington’s actual birthday on February 22 to the third Monday of February. Because of this Act, and the fact that President Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12, many people now refer to the holiday as “Presidents Day” and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, neither the Uniform Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day.

President Heads Nation in Honoring Great Emancipator at Lincoln Memorial…. Harris & Ewing, photographer, February 12, 1940. Harris & Ewing Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Several Lincoln devotees have attempted to create a holiday in honor of the sixteenth President. In 1873, Julius FrancisExternal, a shopkeeper from Buffalo, New York, proposed a holiday celebrating President Lincoln. Francis, a bachelor and collector of Civil War and Lincoln memorabilia, declared that his campaign for a Lincoln holiday was “my wife and my life.” Francis sent Congress elaborate memorial pamphlets as part of his campaign and organized the first public celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in Buffalo. Until his death in 1881, Francis held annual celebrations of Lincoln’s birthday, renting a hall and organizing speakers, poets, and musicians to celebrate the martyred president. His attempts to persuade Congress to establish a legal Lincoln’s Birthday holiday were not successful, but in 1877 Francis organized the Buffalo Lincoln’s Birthday Association to continue the campaign after his death.

In 1951, Californian Harold Stonebridge Fischer formed a Presidents Day National Committee and lobbied Congress for the creation of a holiday to honor the office of the president rather than a particular president. He proposed March 4, the original Presidential Inauguration Day, as the date for “Presidents Day.” The bill was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but several state governors subsequently issued proclamations declaring March 4 “Presidents Day” in their states.

Maryland Division […] Lincoln birthday anniversary… February 12, 1925. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Even in locations where it is not a legal holiday, many groups and individuals celebrate Lincoln’s birthday, and annual wreath-laying ceremonies take place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Kentucky. The ceremony in Washington has been conducted every year since the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Activities in other locations include re-enactments, parades, concerts, and readings of the Gettysburg Address.

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Thomas Moran, Painter

February 12 marks the birth of painter Thomas Moran(1837-1926).* His depictions of Western landscapes inspired Americans to conserve and cherish spectacular wilderness areas as part of their national heritage.

Thomas Moran. Napoleon Sarony, photographer, ca 1890-96. Prints & Photographs Division

In the summer of 1871, Moran joined the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories. Headed by Ferdinand V. Hayden, this scientific exploration of lands along the Yellowstone River in northwestern Wyoming and southeastern Montana included a painter and a photographer. Visual documentation not only served to verify textual reports but also stimulated public interest.

The Great Blue Spring of the Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone… Thomas Moran, artist; chromolithograph by L. Prang & Co., c1875. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

Collaborating closely with William Henry Jackson, the expedition photographer, Moran took extensive notes and made numerous watercolor sketches of sulphur fields, hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, and evergreen mountain peaks. Returning East, Hayden displayed many of Moran’s sketches and Jackson’s photographs in Washington, D.C.

These images helped convince Congress to set aside the Yellowstone area as a national park. Legislation establishing the park took effect March 1, 1872. Congress later purchased two of Moran’s panoramic landscapes to embellish the U.S. Capitol: The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone (1872) and The Chasm of the Colorado (1873-74).

The Tower of Tower Falls, Yellowstone… Thomas Moran, artist; chromolithograph by L. Prang & Co., c1875. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

Moran continued to travel and paint in the West. Although Scribner’s, Harper’s Weekly, and other influential magazines published black-and-white engravings of his art, Moran’s paintings of wilderness spectacles attracted the widest acclaim. Beginning in 1874, Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran (as he sometimes signed his name) created a series of watercolors that were published as chromolithographs by L. Prang and Company in 1876. Louis Prang was a pioneer in the full-color reproduction of American art; his chromolithographs of Moran’s paintings added a new dimension to public appreciation of Western scenic beauty.

Moran was less interested in exactly replicating the marvels of nature than in capturing their overall impression on the human spirit. In this, he was deeply influenced by the British painter J.M.W. Turner, whose works he copied and studied in his youth; and by Turner’s champion, the British critic John Ruskin, who expressed admiration for Moran’s art.

Brush Burning. Edward Moran, artist; photograph of painting, ca 1900-1912. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Two of Moran’s brothers also were painters. Edward, known mostly for his maritime paintings, was Thomas’s principal mentor. This photograph of a painting relies on yellow and brown hues similar to those in Thomas Moran’s Western landscapes.

    * Moran gave his birthdate as January 12, but biographer Thurman Wilkins recently discovered the correct date on Moran’s birth certificate.

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Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather was one of New England’s foremost intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries. Born in Boston on February 12, 1663 to a prominent Puritan family, he followed the familial occupation established by his grandfathers and devoted his life to Puritan activities. In fact, his paternal grandfather Richard Mather who played a very dynamic role in most affairs of the nascent Massachusetts Bay Colony, was involved in the production of the first book printed in British America. Richard was an English translator of the Hebrew Book of Psalms, which was printed in 1640 by Stephen Daye who brought a printing press from England to Cambridge in 1638. This book, known as the The whole booke of Psalmes faithfully translated into English metre and also as the Bay Psalm Book is in the custody of the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. It has been digitized and can be viewed online.

The vvhole booke of Psalmes faithfully translated into English metre [Bay Psalm Book]. [Cambridge, Mass.]: Imprinted [by S. Daye, 1640]. [Title page from the Bay Psalm book, a facsim, reprint of the first ed. of 1640 [Chicago, 1956].] Rare Book Selections. Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Richard Mather passed down his penchant for ministry and languages to his son and grandson, as Increase and Cotton were also very skilled in classical languages. Increase had written several tracts in Latin, De successu evangelij apud Indos in Novâ-Angliâ epistola(A letter on the success of the gospel among the Indians in New England) and Diatriba de signo filii hominis, et de Secundo Messiae Adventu(Diatribe on the sign of the son of man, and on the Second Coming of the Messiah). He made sure that young Cotton also received solid instruction in Latin during his formative years. Cotton seemed to have been predisposed to language acquisition. Latin came so easily to him that when he had not yet reached his teenage years, he had such a grasp on this language that he was able to satisfy the admission requirements for Harvard College, which necessitated a complete comprehension of Latin.

Cotton includes these entrance criteria in his most famous work, Magnalia Christi Americana(Great American works of Christ) published in London in 1702. In the fifth book of Magnalia Christi Americana the reader can find the Statuta, leges et privilegia, a praeside et sociis, Collegii Harvardi, apud Cantabrigiensis in Nova Anglia, approbata et sancita… (Statutes, Laws and Privileges, Approved and sanctioned by the President and Fellows of Harvard College at Cambridge in New England…), which constitute a list of 23 rules outlining entrance, graduation and curriculum requirements for the college, among other topics. Rule number one delineates the entrance requirements during Cotton’s time:

Cuicunque fuerit perita legendi Ciceronem, aut quemvis alium eiusmodi classicum autorem ex tempore et congrue loquendi ac scribendi latine facultas, oratione tam solute quam ligata, suo (ut aiunt) marte, et ad unquam inflectendi Graecorum nominum, et verborum paradigmata; hic admissionem in collegium iure potest expectare: quicunque vero destitutus fuerit hac peritia admitionem sibi neutiquam vindicet

English translation:

Anyone who will have been [at the time of admission] experienced in reading Cicero, or any other similar contemporary classical author, and has the ability of suitably speaking and writing Latin by his own free and unassisted (as they say) ability, and of declining Greek nouns verbs, he can rightly expect admission to the college. However, anyone who may be lacking in this experience, under no circumstances may he be admitted.

Andrew M. Gaudio, Classics, Medieval Studies, Linguistics specialist/Reference Librarian; Researcher & Reference Services Division. The Library of Congress

Magnalia Christi Americana, by Cotton Mather. Hartford: Published by Silas Andrus. Roberts & Burr, Printers, 1820. General Collections

Cotton’s son, Samuel Mather, who was a minister of comparatively minor importance in Boston, provides in his “The Life of the Very Reverend and Learned Cotton Mather…” published in 1729, details about Cotton’s ability to acquire and learn new languages. Samuel tells that his father’s secondary education was left to the task of Ezekiel Cheever, famed New England schoolmaster and that by age 12 Cotton could read Roman authors such as Cicero, Terence, Ovid, and Virgil in addition to the New Testament in Greek. By meeting the above-mentioned requirements for entry into Harvard at such an early age, he was the youngest student to be admitted in the College’s history – when he was 12. While at Harvard, he studied logic, ethics, and learned Hebrew. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1678 and a masters in 1681.

Samuel Mather also relates a portion of the commencement speech of Urian Oakes who was president of Harvard from 1675-1680 when Cotton earned his bachelor of arts. The excerpt highlights Oakes’ esteem for Cotton’s grandfathers Richard Mather and John Cotton (who both arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s) and praises Cotton Mather for displaying the same qualities as his grandfathers:

Alter vero Cottonus Matherus nuncupatur. Quantum Nomen! Erravi, fateor Auditores, dixissem etinem, quanta Nomina! Nihil Ego de Reverendo Patre, Academiae Curatore viligantissimo, municipia Academici socio primaruim dicam; quoniam coram & in os laudare nolim: sed si Pietatem, Eruditionem, Ingenium elegans, Judicium Solidum, Prudentiam & Gravitatem Avorum Reverendissimorum Joannis Cottoni et Richardi Matheri, referat et representet, omne tulisse Punctum dici poterit nec despero futurum, ut in hic juvene Cottonus atque Matherus tam re quam Nomine coalescent et reviviscant.

English translation:

Another Cotton Mather is mentioned. How great that name is! I have made a mistake, I admit, my listeners, because I should have said “how great those names are!” I will say nothing about the Reverend Father [Increase], a most watchful trustee of this academy, a principal fellow of this academic body, since I do not wish to praise him publicly and in this speech. However, if he [Cotton Mather] reflects and exhibits the piety, learning, elegant talent, sound judgment, prudence, and influence of his grandfathers the Most Reverend John Cotton and Richard Mather, it will be said that he has upheld every quality of theirs. And I do not lose hope, that in this young man, Cotton and Mather should unite and be revived in substance and in name.

Andrew M. Gaudio, Classics, Medieval Studies, Linguistics specialist/Reference Librarian; Researcher & Reference Services Division. The Library of Congress

After his education, Cotton Mather was ordained a minister and he served as pastor of Boston’ North Church, a position which he held alongside Increase until his father’s death in 1723, and thereafter by himself until his death five years later. He wrote copiously on a great variety of topics, and his total output of published works exceeded 400 items. Along with Increase, Cotton was involved in overseeing the Salem Witchcraft TrialsExternal. He was also a supporter of smallpox inoculation, writing about it to the Royal Society in London, and in 1713 he was elected as a fellow of that organization. Among his many publications of letters, sermons, reports, and books are his most famous works Magnalia Christi Americana previously referenced; Memorable Providences; Wonders of the Invisible World; and The Christian Philosopher. He dedicated his entire life to scholarly pursuits and Puritan ministry. He died on February 13, 1728.

The town of Boston in New England. “Engraved from a copy in the possession of Wm. Taylor Esq. and published by George G. Smith, engraver … Boston, 1835.” Cities and Towns. Geography and Map Division

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