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This Week in History
May 25 - 31, 1868

May 30, 1868

The Original Memorial Day:
Honoring Those Who Defeated Slavery and Disunion

by Anton Chaitkin
May 2014

Abraham Lincoln.

From its inception in May 1868, Memorial Day was not devoted so much to the recently ended Civil War, but to commemoration of the commitment to the Republic for which so many gave their lives. While remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the nation vowed to preserve its most sacred principles into the future, for the benefit of not only the widows and orphans, but of generations to come.

Lyndon LaRouche has recommended we do the same today, dedicating ourselves to creating a truly human future for all mankind.

Among those who lost their lives in that British-instigated war was America’s greatest leader, President Abraham Lincoln. Although he did not die directly in battle, the assassin who brought him down was deployed on behalf of the Empire which had been attempting to destroy the American Republic ever since its victory in the War on Independence. In killing Lincoln, the Empire calculated that it was killing the one individual who, representing a spirit of reconciliation and compassion, could heal the nation, and make it strong.

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Indeed, the British calculated well, for it took nearly three generations, 67 years, for the United States to elect another President with a comparable depth and nobility of character to bring the nation together, and lead the country onto a path of extraordinary progress. That, of course, was Franklin Roosevelt, whose leadership was crucial to saving us from fascism, at home and abroad.

But it is the poet Lincoln who best expressed for the ages, the appropriate spirit of Memorial Day, even before the war ended. Dedicating the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1863, he evoked the fundamental principles of the American Republic, which have been worth dying for throughout its life—up until today. In celebrating our veterans, we would do best to grasp that spirit, and spread it among our fellow citizens, even as we seek to create the conditions in which men no longer slaughter each other in war.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate— we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—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—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 26, 2014. The change of the date from May 30 is because in 1968, Congress amended the federal holiday provisions of the United States Code with the the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Pub.L. 90–36). The Act, signed into law on June 28, 1968 and observed beginning on January 1, 1971, established the observance of certain federal holidays on Mondays. 

General John Logan.

General John A. Logan was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans of the Union Army who had defeated the rebellion of the slaveowners in the American Civil War.

His General Order Number 11, issued May 5, 1868, designated the 30th of May as “decoration day” to strew flowers on the graves of those who “soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms.”

Logan warned, “Let no … ravages of time testify to … the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

            General Order
            No. 11

            Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
            Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868


The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude,--the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.


It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.


Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.


By command of:


Thanks to Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War