By Bruce Stambaugh
As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.
Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.
With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.
Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.
Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”
Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.
In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.
The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.
Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.
Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.
Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.
Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.
Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2017
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