… not as expected!

So The Legal Genealogist threw out a question to readers yesterday, Columbus Day, 2018.

When did Columbus Day first become an official federal holiday?

Quite honestly, in getting ready to write a quick blog post about the holiday,1 I couldn’t find an easy well-documented answer.

History.com reported that “Columbus Day … did not become a federal holiday until 1937. … In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday…” But it didn’t cite any source for that.2

On the other hand, the Library of Congress said “President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Columbus Day (then celebrated October 12) a national holiday in 1934.”3 And that doesn’t cite any sources either.

So… was it 1934? Or 1937?

82 Stat. 250

Some great answers came in from readers. Jay Kruizenga was first in with a cite to the FDR proclamation in 1937. It was Proclamation No. 2253, issued 18 September 1937, and in part it read:

I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the aforesaid public resolution, do by this proclamation designate October 12, 1937, as Columbus Day and do direct that on that day the flag of the United States be displayed on all Government buildings ; and, further, I do invite the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches, or other suitable places.4

And the legal authority for that proclamation was a Joint Resolution of Congress, passed in 1934:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation designating October 12 of each year as Columbus Day and calling upon officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on said date and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of the discovery of America.5

Beth Bower joined in with later proclamations and the statute.

And that might have been that.

Except that there was an earlier proclamation, issued 30 September 1934:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the aforesaid public resolution, do by this proclamation designate October 12 of each year as Columbus Day and do direct that on that day the flag of the United States be displayed on all Government buildings; and, further, I do invite the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches, or other suitable places.6

That means it became an official federal holiday in 1934, right?

Not so fast…

Read the text of the 1934 statute and proclamation again. Or the 1937 proclamation for that matter. Where exactly does either the resolution or any proclamation say that Columbus Day is an official national holiday? You know, the kind where the banks are closed? The mail not being delivered?

Not there, is it?

And there were such holidays by then: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day had all been declared “by law public holidays.”7 At a minimum, federal employees got the day off with pay.

So readers Kim Thurman, Maureen Vanek and Malcolm McCorquodale therefore took the contrarian view in comments on the blog post: it wasn’t an official national holiday at all until it was included in the list of to-be-celebrated-every-year legal holidays passed by statute in 1968.

Kim cited a report by the Congressional Research Service that said so: “In 1968, Columbus Day was made a federal holiday.”8 Maureen cited the 1968 statute itself.9 Malcolm added the Presidential Signing Statement for the 1968 bill, that said the statute “establishes Columbus Day as a Federal holiday” and called it a “new holiday.”10 Reader Carol Jenner joined in by email saying the same thing.

Based on the evidence, I have to side with the contrarians. Columbus Day didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1968.

Good work, everybody!!


SOURCES

  1. Quick because I was on holiday with my own family — 17 of us in Mexico for a family get-together!
  2. Columbus Day 2018,” This Day in History, History.com (https://www.history.com/ : accessed 8 Oct 2018).
  3. Columbus Day,” Today in History – October 12, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/ : accessed 8 Oct 2018).
  4. Proclamation 2253, 50 Stat. 1772 (18 Sep 1937).
  5. H.J. Res. 10, “Requesting the President to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day for the observance of the anniversary of the discovery of America,” 48 Stat. 657 (30 Apr 1934).
  6. Proclamation 2101, 49 Stat. 3419 (30 Sep 1934).
  7. See “An Act Making Labor Day a legal holiday,” 28 Stat. 96 (28 June 1894).
  8. Jacob R. Straus, Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices, CRS Report No R41990 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2014), (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41990.pdf : accessed 8 October 2018).
  9. “An Act To provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes,” 82 Stat. 250 (28 June 1968).
  10. No. 342, Statement by the President Upon Signing the Uniform Holiday Bill, June 28, 1968,” The American Presidency Project (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ : accessed 8 Oct 2018).
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