What! Another Presidents Day? What’s the big deal?

Once upon a time I remember we celebrated George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays on separate days.  Perhaps my memory fails me but I don’t remember when or why they were combined into one President’s day.  I do remember thinking that somehow both of them got the proverbial “shaft” since we are now not celebrating a person’s birthday but celebrating a “group” or a concept rather than honoring good old George or Abe.  Actually, I never had much use for George as I thought of him as more the jock warrior type and less of a thinker.  I reserved my admiration for Thomas Jefferson who I thought deserved a day of his own.  It is hard to fault good Old Abe as he freed the slaves!  Nevertheless, even Abe has come in for his share of criticism as many say he really did not care about the slaves but only keeping the union together.  And of course, George had more slaves than he could count thus tarnishing his image in the eyes of many.  So why celebrate either George or Abraham? 
I don’t have time to fully defend either George or Abraham, but let me say that I have read a great deal about both of these men in the last twenty years.  The two greatest decisions ever made in the history of this country were made by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Without these decisions, this country would not exist nor would it stand as an icon of freedom and democracy to the rest of the world.  I will argue with anyone on these points and challenge you to read as much as I have on the lives of Lincoln and Washington and see if you do not reach the same conclusions.  I have read many criticisms of George and Abe and though they have some merit, they overlook the good that these men did, a good that justly warrants a day for each of their remembrances and most certainly their status as two of the greatest men in history and certainly our two greatest presidents.
What were these decisions?  George Washington was the greatest hero on earth in his day.  His victories over the British made him the most famous and most popular man on the face of the earth and certainly in America.  George was nominated and elected President of the USA.  After serving his first two terms and eight years in office, he was asked to run a third term.  You have heard it said that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupt absolutely.”  It takes a strong man, perhaps even a godlike man to turn down power, but that is what George did. The populace wanted to elect him ruler for life.  Some wanted to crown him king.  George recognized that accepting this title and power would have a corrupting effect. Few men in history have turned down such a gift but George did.  Many Americans forget that it was his precedent setting decision that set us on a true path to democracy rather than a dictatorship even if under George it would have been a paternalistic one.  It was not until 1947 when congress passed the 22nd amendment that two terms were officially established by law as the limit for any president.  Many other presidents followed George’s precedent but only George turned down the opportunity to have become ruler for life.  There are many other decisions that George made that you should know about and if you have the time today, at least go to Wikipedia and read about his time as president.  I guarantee your esteem and admiration for this man will increase tenfold.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington
 
Now we come to Honest Abe.  Did he really return a few pennies that he was overpaid?  Much more important I think is the issue of his motives for the civil war.  Yes, he fought the war to preserve the union.  But would there have been a war to fight if not for the question of slavery?  Everything in the man’s past, in his actions, in his speeches and in his writings cried out his hatred for slavery.  Listen to some of his words on slavery:
“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it, is his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Speech at Peoria, Illinois” (October 16, 1854), p. 271.
“What I do say is, that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle – the sheet anchor of American republicanism.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, “Speech at Peoria, Illinois” (October 16, 1854), p. 266.
“In the first place, I insist that our fathers did not make this nation half slave and half free, or part slave and part free. I insist that they found the institution of slavery existing here. They did not make it so, but they left it so because they knew of no way to get rid of it at that time.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Quincy” (October 13, 1858), p. 276.
“Now, I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil, having due regard for its actual existence amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the constitutional obligations which have been thrown about it; but, nevertheless, desire a policy that looks to the prevention of it as a wrong, and looks hopefully to the time when as a wrong it may come to an end.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg” (October 7, 1858), p. 226.
All of these quotes are at least 7 years before the Emancipation Proclamation and several years before the onset of the civil war.  How anyone can deny that Lincoln was 100 percent against slavery and totally committed to ending its spread and abolishing it as an institution is beyond me.  Yes, he played politics and yes he did some things that were more expedient than moral but that is the nature of politics.  There are those who voted for President Obama and are now dissatisfied with his tenure because he has also been expedient and political.  Such people are either fools or helplessly naïve.  Shame on them for denying the virtues of others because they do not measure up to their standards!  It is easy to win the football game from the bleachers or to perform the high wire act from the circus stands.  Get up off your butt and take a stand against injustice, hatred and bigotry.  Stand up and speak out against the racists, nativists, hate mongers, anti-immigration people and see what it takes to be brave.  I have a t-shirt which says: “We don’t need an anti-immigration policy, we need a fair immigration policy.”  The majority of Americans endorse this concept but the people we have elected today would rather build walls and fences than create a fair and just immigration policy.  The issue here is not just one of economics but also of social and legal justice.  It will not be solved by racial hatred and discrimination.
The job to create the greatest democracy on the face of the earth was started and set on the right path by such men as Washington and Lincoln.  These were men who made tough choices and had the courage and conviction of their choices.  We honor them best by continuing to build the greatest democracy on the face of the earth.  Today on Presidents day, let’s remember that the job is not done.  We still have battles to win against hatred, prejudice and discrimination.  We honor George and Abe by picking up their mantles and asking how they would have proceeded.  What would Abe and George have done about the issues we are facing today?  Are we acting in their honor or in more narrow sectarian paths?  Are we making decisions based on fact and love for others or are we basing our decisions on prejudice and self-interest?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 14:40:39

    GREAT!!! I went to widipedia to learn more about George W. and thanks to your blog I learned facts I had never known about one of the greatest presidents and statesman that ever lived. How sad he had to die at 67 from an ailment that would surely have been cured today with our medicines! We have come a long way!!
    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. Anonymous
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 16:07:46

    You didn't know that he died at 67? Its sad that you had to look that up. I'm 11 and I knew that!

    Reply

  3. Anonymous
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 16:11:18

    But then again, mu Teacher is amazing and works us really hard……
    Never mind. Forget I said that.

    Reply

  4. John Persico
    Dec 09, 2012 @ 16:21:26

    Give my regards to your teacher but don't be surprised that many do not have your knowledge of history. It has been said that history books in High Schools are an example of the “Worst” textbooks every written. Perhaps because they try to pacify many different political viewpoints and in achieving this they become sterile, boring and dry. Real history is exciting, dynamic, and intriguing. There are many good books on history but most do not get read in High School.

    Reply

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