Today is Presidents' Day in the United States. It is the day to honor all American presidents. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Rich Kleinfeldt. We tell about one of America's greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, on our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
Americans celebrate Presidents' Day each year on the third Monday of February. But they did not always do so. They used to observe the birthdays of two of the greatest American presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both men were born in the month of February. Abraham Lincoln's birthday is February twelfth. George Washington's is February twenty-second.
In Nineteen-Seventy-One, Congress approved a law that affected some national holidays. It changed the official celebration of the holiday to the Monday closest to the real date. The birthdays of the two presidents were celebrated on one day -- the third Monday in February. Later, Congress said the holiday would honor all American presidents. VOICE TWO:
Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth American president. He is considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in Eighteen-Oh-Nine. He grew up in Illinois. His family was poor and had no education. Abraham Lincoln taught himself what he needed to know. He became a lawyer. He served in the Illinois state legislature and in the United States Congress. In Eighteen-Sixty, he was elected to the country's highest office.
President Lincoln led the United States during the Civil War between the northern and southern states. This was the most serious crisis in American history. President Lincoln helped end slavery in the nation. And he helped keep the American union from splitting apart during the war. President Lincoln believed that he proved to the world that democracy can be a lasting form of government.
In Eighteen-Sixty-Three, President Lincoln gave what became his most famous speech. Union armies of the north had won two great victories that year. They defeated the Confederate armies of the south at Vicksburg, Mississippi and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Ceremonies were held to honor the dead soldiers at a burial place on the Gettysburg battlefield.
President Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg for only about two minutes. But his speech has never been forgotten. Historians say the speech defined Americans as a people who believed in freedom, democracy and equality.
Abraham Lincoln wrote some of the most memorable words in American history. He was murdered a few days after the Civil War ended, in Eighteen-Sixty-Five. Yet his words live on.
In Nineteen-Forty-Two, orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanitz asked composer Aaron Copland to write a piece of music about Abraham Lincoln. Copland was one of the best modern American composers. He wrote many kinds of music. His music told stories about the United States.
Aaron Copland wrote "Lincoln Portrait" to honor the president. Copland's music included parts of American folk songs and songs popular during the Civil War. Here is the Seattle Symphony playing part of "Lincoln Portrait."
((TAPE CUT ONE: LINCOLN PORTRAIT))
Aaron Copland added words from President Lincoln's speeches and letters to his "Lincoln Portrait." It has been performed many times in the United States. Many famous people have read the words. To celebrate Presidents' Day, here is actor James Earl Jones reading part of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait":
((TAPE CUT TWO: JAMES EARL JONES, LINCOLN PORTRAIT:))
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." That is what he said, That is what Abraham Lincoln said: "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We – even we here – hold the power and bear the responsibility" …
Lincoln was a quiet man. Abe Lincoln was a quiet and melancholy man. But, when he spoke of Democracy, this is what he said:
He said: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of Democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."
Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of these United States, is everlasting in the memory of his countrymen, for on the battleground at Gettysburg this is what he said:
He said: "That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion: that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; and that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. Our engineer was Al Alevy. I'm Shirley Griffith.
((LINCOLN PORTRAIT INSTEAD OF CLOSING THEME)) And I'm Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.