This year for Presidents Day, instead of buying a new appliance, I'm urging all of us to mark the holiday by reading George Washington's Farewell Address and Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. I know. Focusing on two great presidents on Presidents Day. It's radical, but at least you won't be stuck in traffic on the way to the mall.
But in these days of political upheaval around the world and discontent here at home, it's a good idea to reflect on the words of two of our greatest leaders -- my two favorite presidents. Both presided over our country during times of vast change, and both put their country before themselves. It would be hard to imagine our America's founding without George Washington, or her preservation without Abraham Lincoln.
Both presidents referenced "Providence" and "God" extensively. They understood that they were part of a bigger plan and worked to do their part.
We all know that Washington was our first commander in chief, given the title in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. In fact, he was commander even before we had troops, and he served for all eight years of the Revolution. Staying with the troops throughout, he famously led them across the Delaware River on Dec. 25, 1776, to surprise the British. He returned to our country's service in 1787, presiding over the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. In 1789, 14 years after agreeing to serve as commander in chief, Washington was voted unanimously by the Electoral College to become our first president.
Throughout his service to our country, Washington recognized that it was not about him, but about our country. Having survived the French and Indian War as a young man, while having two horses shot out from under him and four bullets piercing his clothes, Washington might have recognized that Providence saved him and that he had a specific purpose to accomplish.
As he was leaving the presidency in 1797, he published a "Farewell Address" designed to provide guidance. The "disinterested warnings of a parting friend" began by focusing on "the continuance of the union as a primary object of patriotic desire." Washington wrote, "The Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all."
He was concerned that a person's passion for party might take precedence over passion for country, noting that "sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."