February has many notable days- Presidents’ Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, Leap Day (every 4 years), Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras, and the Lunar New Year.  It is also Black History Month which leads to two of the United States’ most recognizable and important people of the 19th century:

Both were born in February. Frederick Douglas was raised as a slave in Maryland, and Abraham Lincoln grew up in poverty as an illiterate farmer’s son in Kentucky. They both learned to read through difficult circumstances which led to their individual self-education. They moved forward through tough times with determination, ultimately addressing the most serious inseparable problems of the time- Slavery and saving the Union.

Frederick Douglas became an Abolitionist of the highest order and was the most photographed American of the 19th century.  Two of sons were in the Union Army, one was seriously wounded in combat. Douglas was critical of Lincoln’s positions on several issues including slavery and the treatment of black Union Soldiers treatment. Over time, he came to appreciate Lincoln’s political positions and his gradual and intentional transformations.

Abraham Lincoln as a teenager supposedly witnessed a Slave auction in New Orleans—something that undoubtedly never left his mind. While slavery was great divider, upon becoming President his most pressing issue was saving the Union. Lincoln took office in March 1861 and the Civil War essentially began in April 1861 at Fort Sumter. The following year in September 1862 Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which was formally released on 1 January 1863. It did not apply to the slavery states in the Union but it was a major step toward ending slavery.

Douglas believed Lincoln was more invested in saving the relationship between the states than in fully freeing the slaves, but he ultimately understood that Lincoln’s fight was for both Union preservation and Slave freedom. After his assassination, Abraham Lincoln’s wife gave his favorite cane to Frederick Douglas. There was a strong connection between these two great men- both born in February, destined to save the Union and free the Slaves.