Creating Columbus Day

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Use the source information, your knowledge of history, and the passage to answer the question below.


This is an excerpt from President Benjamin Harrison’s proclamation of Columbus Day as a national holiday in 1892.

Harrison's Proclamation in The Record Union, July 22, 1892.
Source text: 

“I Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States of America . . . do hereby appoint Friday, Oct. 21, 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States.  On that day let the people so far as possible cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life. . . . In the churches and in the other places of assembly of the people, let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer, and for the Divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.”

Question: Which one of the facts below might help explain why Benjamin Harrison declared a holiday to honor Christopher Columbus? (Columbus was an Italian Catholic.)

1.    Columbus enslaved people he encountered on his voyages but refused to baptize them because Catholic law prohibited the enslavement of Christians.
2.    Benjamin Harrison was running for re-election in 1892 and millions of Catholic immigrants could vote. 
3.    Although Harrison’s proclamation only called for a holiday in 1892, the United States has celebrated Columbus Day every year since 1934.
4.    Columbus not only made four voyages to the Americas but also served twice as governor as Hispaniola, which is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. 

About the Assessment

Like the John Brown assessment, this question gauges student ability to evaluate the relevance of contextual information for determining the motivations of an author. Students must select 1 fact and explain how it sheds light on why President Harrison declared Columbus Day a national holiday in 1892.  Students with a strong understanding of contextualization will be able to explain how the fact that Catholic voters comprised an important voting block in the pending election might have affected Harrison's decision to honor an Italian Catholic explorer.