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US History

Happy Presidents’ Day!

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In America, we have had our share of extraordinary leaders as well as mediocrities of the worst stripe. For every Washington, there was a Gates; and for every Lincoln, there was a Buchanan. It has been our great fortune, or a kind Providence, that has blessed our great nation with gifted leaders for our times of direst need. And our system of government has, until recent years, allowed long serial runs of political incompetents and nonentities without the slightest detriment to the strength and vigor of the Republic.

Nonetheless, it is proper and just to remember today two of the most extraordinary leaders who every lived. Men who would have been called great in any time and place.

George Washington, Father of the Nation, whom historians call the “indispensable man” of the Revolution. Stalwart military commander and sagacious First President, he resisted the temptation of ultimate power and retired to private life after winning the war and again after two terms in office, when his countrymen would have crowned him as an American Caesar on both occasions had he wished it. Most Americans forget his crucial role in between the Revolution and Presidency: George Washington actively corresponded with fellow Virginian James Madison and his former Chief of Staff, Alexander Hamilton in the run up to the Constitutional Convention. Mr. Washington accepted the nomination of the Convention to be its president and head, and thus lent his enormous prestige to the project that would become our glorious Constitution.

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Abraham Lincoln, the self-taught backwoodsman who typified the “new American man”, and become not only a second father to his nation, but an icon of freedom to the enslaved everywhere. If the Southern rebellion had succeeded, then the smug prediction of the European monarchies would have been fulfilled: that government of the people, by the people, for the people was doomed to failure. The few would always rule the many. Mr. Lincoln elevated the horror and bloodshed of civil war – of which there were many examples in all times and places – to a different plane: he justified the sacrifice, to save popular government first; but eventually, to redeem the horrors of slavery – “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Alone among the politicians – perhaps alone among the divided nation – Mr. Lincoln did not hate, but always sought ways to “bind the nation’s wounds”. If the South and North, Dixie and Yankee, were eventually reconciled into a greater union, it is thanks largely to President Lincoln’s example, and to those leaders North and South who recognized his magnanimity and sought to emulate it.

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I wish everyone a Happy President’s Day!

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“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.“

John Adams

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