Monday, February 12, 2018

Lincoln's Birthday

When I was growing up, Lincoln's Birthday on February 12 was the first legal holiday after New Year's, our first day off from regular school after Christmas Vacation. With Washington's Birthday on February 22, that made two school holidays in this short month. Back then, the entire school year was punctuated by patriotic holidays - Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Lincoln's and Washington's Birthdays, and finally Memorial Day. Some of those holidays are hardly observed at all anymore, and if acknowledged at all they are mainly observed as occasions for popular pursuits utterly unrelated to the original purpose of the holiday.

I believe Lincoln's Birthday is still a state holiday in New York. It never was a federal holiday. The only February federal holiday is still Washington's Birthday - still its official name, but now emptied of its meaning by being celebrated on the third Monday of the month. Some states that used to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday have abandoned it and seem to have folded it in with Washington's Birthday into our meaningless "Presidents Day."

Abraham Lincoln is still widely regarded as our country's greatest president - both for having won the Civil War (and thus saving the Union) and also for having invested saving the union with a higher moral claim by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and pushing for the 13th Amendment. Of course, other presidents also deserve the label "great." Washington, obviously, deserves the label for making the constitution actually work and investing the presidency with serious and symbolic substance far greater than the sparse words of  the Constitution's Article II accorded it. And FDR, also obviously, for having transformed both the nation and the presidency in response to the needs of a new century, so dramatically different from the country the constitution was written for. Like Lincoln, FDR died at the time of his greatest success. So both are always associated with victory, rather than with war's messy aftermath.

That trio of "Greatest" Presidents are if anything all the more relevant today when virtually everything they stood for is being trashed by what was once "the Party of Lincoln."

Addressing the United States Congress on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis invoked the memory of Abraham Lincoln as “the guardian of liberty.” The Pope then continued:

“All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. … Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good. … The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience. …It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.”

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