It may be difficult for anyone now under the age of 30 to imagine, but for most of the twentieth century the birthday of Abraham Lincoln was keenly celebrated in the United States, particularly in those states which had participated in the effort to preserve the Union during the Civil War. In fact, the earliest known commemoration of Lincoln’s birthday dates to 1874 in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo pharmacist Julius Francis took up the mantle of advocating a federal holiday in honor of Lincoln on his birthday, and repeatedly petitioned Congress toward that end. By 1909, when the Lincoln Centennial was celebrated, the idea of commemorating Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday had taken a firm hold on the public imagination.
During the years he served as President, Lincoln’s own birthday celebrations were subdued, as the conduct of the war to preserve the Union, the welfare of Union soldiers and other major problems faced by the nation weighed heavily on his conscience. On February 12, 1864—150 years ago today—Lincoln marked his birthday by assuring that James Taylor, a soldier who had been sentenced to death for desertion by Court Martial, would not lose his life.
Brown University’s John Hay Library is home to the McLellan Lincoln Collection, one of the largest and most distinguished Lincoln collections held by an academic institution. These holdings document all aspects of Lincoln’s life, his term as President of the United States, and his legacy in American politics and popular culture. A significant portion of the collection is freely available to the public online in the Brown University Library’s Lincolniana at Brown website.
Contact: Holly Snyder | (401) 863-1515