On February 19, we celebrate the February birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They are the only presidents honored with a national holiday. A few reasons:
As our first president, everything Washington did established principles for future U.S. presidents. He preferred being addressed as Mr. President even though John Adams wanted a more exalted “his highness“. And he declined to run for a third term, even though there were no term limits.
- Washington presided over the Convention that wrote the US Constitution. His considerable prestige helped the document survive a tough ratification debate.
- He created a cabinet of luminaries including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton – who were at times bitter political rivals.
- He voluntarily resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and by doing so, established the principle of civilian control over the military.
Lincoln led the nation through our Civil War during his entire presidency. The southern states seceded within months of his election. War broke out in April 1861. The Confederacy was defeated, at the terrible cost of 600,000 lives.
- Like Washington, Lincoln created a talented cabinet of political rivals, including men who had campaigned against Lincoln for the presidency in 1860.
- Lincoln abolished slavery – first by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, then by lobbying Congress to pass the 13th amendment to the Constitution. (Have you seen the film “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis?)
- He was our most eloquent president, in spite of little formal schooling. Read the famous Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural (“with malice toward none…”) to hear some of the ways he inspired his nation.
As the historians say “Washington created the Union, Lincoln saved the Union”. They are two of our greatest US Presidents.