American Icons: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
At some point over the past 20 years, politics evolved into an unpleasant, ugly forum where public servants started to be placed under such an intense microscope they can seemingly no longer do right.
That scrutiny may be the result of social media whereby everyone has a platform to voice their displeasure with the state of affairs. Throw in the 24/7 news cycle where everything, and anything, is reported on and you have an atmosphere ripe for vitriol, ad hominem attacks and misinformation.
Whatever your feelings are on politics these days – good, bad or indifferent – Presidents Day serves as a reminder that those who hold America’s highest public office should be celebrated, recognized and remembered for their service to this country.
Established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington (born on February 22), it expanded in the late-1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. That act included a provision to combine both Washington ’s Birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, 1809.
Though the holiday has since grown to include all Presidents, we thought it would be appropriate to concentrate on Washington and Lincoln, two distinguished leaders who shaped our country for the better.
The country’s first President, Washington rose to power and prominence as the General of the Colonial Army during the American Revolution. He served in office from 1789 to 1797, during which time he organized the first U.S. Cabinet, relying closely on his advisers during his time as chief executive.
Washington’s accomplishments are many. He created the federal judiciary, nominating John Jay as the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. He oversaw the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution known as the Bill of Rights. And he established the US Navy in 1794.
History recalls Washington as a dedicated public servant who was fair, sincere and virtuous. While friendly with other nations, he favored neutrality when it came to foreign conflicts.
Reluctantly, he served for a second term, ending his public service with a farewell address that is considered one of the most celebrated speeches in American history. In it, he warned about the danger of political parties, writing that, “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”
Washington’s final years were spent on his farm in Mount Vernon, where he died in 1799 at the age of 67.
America’s 16th President, Lincoln is best remembered as a great orator, delivering the Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address as well as a great leader, guiding the country through the Civil War.
During his presidency, The Homestead Act of 1862 was passed allowing poor people to obtain land as long as they were 21 years of age or head of a family and had never taken up arms against the US government. That same year, Lincoln established the US Department of Agriculture which is responsible for developing and executing the federal government’s policies on farming, agriculture, forestry and food.
Of course, one of his greatest accomplishments was the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which laid the groundwork for the freeing of slaves in America. This served as the precursor to the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, which was approved by the Senate in 1864 and the House of Representatives in January, 1865. Less than four months later, Lincoln would be assassinated, never seeing the Amendment ratified by the states at the end of 1865.
Today, Lincoln is looked at as one of America’s best Presidents, helping to preserve the Union at a time when a deeply divided country was at war with itself.
Words of an Icon:
“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” – George Washington