America celebrates “Presidents’ Day” tomorrow. Ostensibly this holiday is in recognition of Presidents Lincoln and Washington, who were born in February. Before 1971, Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were celebrated. At Washington’s death, Henry Lee memorialized him with these words: “first in war; first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” So he was.
There is a sense that to know America, one must come to know Washington AND Lincoln. Washington was a slave holder. Lincoln abolished slavery. Slavery has been the monumental American issue for 400 years. Racism still abounds today. For about a century before the founding of the Republic, political loyalties were to states, not the nation. The two “pole stars” of that century were Massachusetts and Virginia.
Virginians were members of the Church of England and loyal to the King. The only “royal” to live in America was Thomas LORD Fairfax. a Virginian who was a friend of the Washington family. Virginia’s economy was built on the slave labor it took to grow cotton and tobacco. While the Washingtons were not among the wealthiest plantation owners, they were wealthy plantation owners who kept slaves.
Like Virginia, Massachusetts was to give America many of its early leaders. Massachusetts was settled by Separatist tradesmen grounded in manufacturing and trade. Lincoln’s ancestry has been traced to early Massachusetts. The doughty New Englanders were 100% for freedom of ordinary people…as well as land owners. They led the fight to end slavery. Even people such as Harriett Beecher Stowe of Cincinnati, were transplanted New Englanders, mostly from Massachusetts.
There was fear in Washington’s Presidency that he would become a king. Happily, such was not to be the case. What model of governance DID Washington create for us? He created the Cabinet model. He led a government strong in finances and with a strong military. He led the country to replace the weak Continental Congress with a much stronger legislative body by way of the Constitutional Convention. He refused to stand for election after two terms. He modeled a peaceful transition of leadership from himself to John Adams, a Massachusetts anti-slaver.
May it be that we will learn from both “the father of our country,” and “the Great Emancipator.” No country ever had better leaders!
May we truly be a “nation under God;” “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”