Monday, Oct. 10, 2011

The Origins of Columbus Day

Columbus Day was the brainchild of New York state senator Timothy Sullivan, an archetypal Tammany Hall man who greased the wheels of New York City's notoriously corrupt political machine during the late 19th century and early 20th century. His bill to set Columbus Day aside passed by a vote of 86 to 35 in 1909, and the initial reaction from those hardworking Americans of yore wasn't great. People labeled it superfluous and called for its repeal.

A New York Times editorial from 1913 shows that sentiment lingering. Sullivan "forced it on reluctant New York and other lawmakers forced it, in turn, on other States," the objector wrote of the day. "Its occurrence interferes sadly with the conduct of business in the season which should be the busiest, but once we have a holiday we must keep it. Luckily there are no other new holidays in sight at present."

Now, critics of the holiday are less concerned about work and more about history — European arrival precipitated a shocking decimation of much of the New World's earlier inhabitants. Some U.S. towns have opted not to celebrate Columbus Day and, instead, commemorate Indigenous People's Day.