Monday, February 16, 2009

Why President's Day??? 

For many going through school, there was always some history covered in February. First we studied and celebrated Lincoln's birthday, February 12. We learned of Abraham Lincoln's growing up in Indiana, teaching himself to read, doing a number of jobs to make a living. At age 21 he moved to Illinois where he eventually ecame a member of the IL General Assembly and the US House of Representatives. He earned a living as a lawyer.

He opposed slavery and argued for years against its spread. A speech that propelled him to national attention was given in a race for US Senate against Stephen Douglas in 1858. Though Lincoln lost the Senate race, this speech was a turning point in his political career. The most quoted line from this debate is:
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'(Mark 3:25) I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved � I do not expect the house to fall � but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
Students know he was President of the United States and was Commander in Chief during the Civil War, a war fought to preserve the union, that is, keep the United States from becoming two (or more) nations, abolish slavery in the southern states (done with the Emancipation Proclamation) and prevent slavery's expansion to new states as the US moved west. His most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, remains one of the most quoted in US History. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation.

The second president we studied and celebrated was the birthday, February 22, of our nation's first president, George Washington. He is known for: leading the Americans against the British in the Revolutionary War; working with the great minds of the time in the crafting of a government founded on the principle (a first) that all men were created equal and that people could govern themselves; and becoming our first president.

Washington had a physical presence that commanded respect yet he was humble enough to value the opinions and decisions of others. Some wanted him to become king. He refused and by refusing, set the stage for a limit of two terms for the presidency. This was practice was honored until Franklin Roosevelt (D) became president during the Depression. Later the two-term limit was codified in the US Constitution by the 22nd Amendment, passed in 1947.

Today, much of what our children learn is about the negatives of these two incredible men.
While there are many good presidents, these two, more than others set the stage for what has become an experiment in freedom, real freedom. Lumping them with all presidents, into a "Presidents Day" diminishes their achievements and ideals.

We would not have what we have today, nor would so many people from so many cultures be able to live as we do without the ideals created by our Founders and put into practice by these two great men. Ideals have to be created, defined, then put into action. Both of these presidents understood that an elite class cannot hold sway over others - that once that happens, freedom for all erodes and eventually disappears.

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