18 February 2008
Lincoln & Washington
We celebrate these President's birthdays today because it's the Monday that falls roughly in the middle of their birthdates. That's why we celebrate it today, but it's not why we celebrate these men.
We celebrate and honor them because they were the leaders of this country when America faced its greatest existential threats: Revolutionary America the the Civil War.
Both of them were great wartime leaders. Washington led when no one else could or would. Against overwhelming odds, he won a war against a far superior force. When it was over, rather than seizing power or leading his men in a coup, he peacefully resigned his post. Later, when America needed his influence to construct the Constitution, he was there. He was our first President and set many important precedents still followed today. He could have made himself President for life, but he declined to run again after his 2nd term.
Abraham Lincoln was President during the Civil War. In fact, it was his election to the Presidency that prompted the southern states to make their break. Before and after pictures of President Lincoln (before and after the Civil War) show the great strain this conflict put on him.
Lincoln was not popular during the Civil War. After the war and even after his death, he was not popular anywhere in the South. But it was his duty to match the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the reality of mid 19th Century America. He called the Civil War an American transformation, a second birth, an opportunity to realize the promise of 1776.
The Civil War cost America more in terms of blood and treasure and national trauma than all other American conflicts combined. We're still dealing with the aftermath.
Neither of these men were perfect--either in their personal lives or in their leadership of this country. But their missteps and mistakes pale in comparison to their accomplishments. We can thank them, more than any other two individuals, for the liberties, freedoms, and prosperity we enjoy today.
Happy Presidents' Day.
*UPDATE: Fantastic article about Washington's history of service.
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