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Despite what you think, Presidents Day doesn’t include Lincoln

February 16, 2014 at 6:52 PM EDT
Under a federal law passed in 1968, the third Monday of February was officially designated as "Washington's birthday." No mention of Honest Abe.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally tonight – the connection.

As far as everyone is concerned, tomorrow is Presidents Day, and many of the advertisements would lead you to believe that it’s a celebration of two of America’s greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

[TELEVISION COMMERCIALS]

But despite what almost everyone believes, tomorrow is not a national holiday known as Presidents’ Day, even the Interior Department apparently isn’t in on the secret.

Under a federal law passed in 1968, the third Monday of February was officially designated as “Washington’s birthday.” No mention at all of honest Abe.

HAROLD HOLZER: Lincoln has never had a national holiday devoted to him.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Harold Holzer is a Lincoln scholar and the author or editor of more than 45 books. He was also a consultant on “Lincoln,” the Academy Award-winning film from 2012.

HAROLD HOLZER: I think he was a victim of the same kind of sectional discord that greeted much of reconstruction. He was considered, even though dead at the time, the northern interloper who had imposed federal control on the sunny south. And so while there was a Washington’s birthday that was a federal holiday, Lincoln never made it. He was only a state by state holiday.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And today, only four states designate Lincoln’s birthday – February 12th – as an official holiday.

Of course, while President Lincoln has been passed over for a federal day off, he does grace Mount Rushmore, the national mall, the five dollar bill, and of course the penny.

But there’s been ongoing talk about ditching the penny, which costs two cents to produce. Another potential blow to Abraham Lincoln.

HAROLD HOLZER: He’s not forgotten, but without the holiday that Dr. King rightfully has, and others have, i think it’s a little bit of a national embarrassment.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So we can all enjoy the day off, save some pennies on those sales, but can call it what it is… Washington’s birthday.