Monday, May 25, 2009

Creation of Memorial Day

Senator John Logan (R-IL)
    This Memorial Day, as Americans salute their fallen military heroes, Republicans can be proud that the holiday was established by one of their own, Senator John Logan (R-IL). Logan Circle in Washington, DC and Logan Square in Chicago were named after him.
    John Logan was inspired by the practice in Petersburg VA, Waterloo NY and other places of decorating Civil War graves. As head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an early veterans organization, he proclaimed that on May 30, 1868 Americans should honor the soldiers and sailors who died in the war by decorating their graves with flowers.
Five thousand people came to Arlington National Cemetery for the first Memorial Day ceremony. The principal speaker that day was U.S. Representative James Garfield (R-OH), who twelve years later would be elected President of the United States. Memorial Day soon became an annual event, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law as a national holiday in 1971.
    John Logan was born in southern Illinois on February 9, 1826. A lawyer by training, he served three years in the U.S. House of Representatives before joining the army with the onset of the Civil War, rising to the rank of major general.
    Though a Democrat before the war, Logan opposed slavery and so re-entered politics as a Republican. In 1866, he was elected to the first of three more terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. John Logan was one of the managers in the impeachment trial of Democrat President Andrew Johnson. That year, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. The Illinois legislature elected Logan to the U.S. Senate in 1871, and again in 1879 and 1885.
    Senator Logan was radically opposed to slavery and then to Democrat oppression of African-Americans in the postwar South. The 1884 Republican National Convention nominated him for vice president, to balance the middle-of-the-road James Blaine at the top of the ticket. Blaine and Logan lost the election by a tiny margin. He and all Republicans took defeat especially hard because the Democrat elected vice president that year, Senator Thomas Hendricks, had actually voted against the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
    In a moving tribute to his fellow citizens, in 1885 he invited some one thousand African-Americans to his home and shook hands with every one. When John Logan died the following year, the body of this great Republican lay in state for two days beneath the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, as a gesture of respect by a grateful nation.
By Michael Zak

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