COLUMN: Honoring America’s Greatest Presidents
"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, a general in the Continental Army during our Revolution, thus eulogized George Washington by placing his memory at the very center of American consciousness. Those words continue to ring true today about the man considered the Father of our Country, and who presided over our nation’s founding. However, Washington has some ‘competition.’ The legacy of Abraham Lincoln’s heroic leadership after restoring the Union and abolishing slavery serves as another inspiring example to Americans today.
On the third Monday every February, Americans observe President’s Day in honor of these, our greatest presidents. Officially, the federal government still recognizes President’s Day as “Washington’s Birthday,” but many of us tip our hats to Honest Abe, who was also born in February.
Without George Washington, our country might not exist at all. The Revolution would have lacked a uniting figure to lead the ragtag Continental Army against the world’s most powerful empire. Washington’s presidency then set the basic terms by which every one of his successors will be measured.
In Abraham Lincoln, our nation was providentially provided with another figure of grace and stature. His leadership during the most divided time in our history guided Americans from warfare of brother against brother, back to peace. The words from his Second Inaugural continue to stir the hearts of Americans:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The great novelist Leo Tolstoy once reflected on Lincoln: “We are still too near to his greatness.” It is an amazing testament to the legacy of the man that more than 150 years after his untimely death, history may yet underappreciate the caliber of his leadership and character.
In the nation’s capital, two of the focal points, the 555-foot Washington Monument at the center of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial, which anchors the Mall’s western end, testify to these giants of our history. We celebrate their memory this week.