In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the third Monday of each February (next Monday) as Presidents Day, proclaiming it a federal holiday. Ever since then, the states have honored that day in one way or another. Some states use the occasion to celebrate all our past presidents. A few states, at least officially, only pay homage to George Washington and no other commander in chief. But most states mark the day to honor both George and our 16th president, ol’ Abe Lincoln.
That these two presidents should be singled out from all our other leaders seems justified. After all, but for the trials, decisions and inspiration of these gentlemen, there wouldn’t even be a United States of America. At least, certainly not a U.S. of A. that’s anything like we know today.
The Continental Congress placed Honest George in command of the Continental Army. That was smart. George was an excellent military strategist who inspired confidence in his men and somehow managed to hold the tenuous, ragtag army together. Had he not defeated Great Britain, the colonies simply would have become part of England’s Commonwealth and Spain would have retained control of California and the Southwest in general. What would have evolved out of that mess is anybody’s guess.
George also presided over the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention and was quite involved in writing that document. Furthermore, the respect he had among the Southern Constituents, who kept threatening to walk out and trash the whole party, helped hold our fragile nation together.
On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican elected to the presidency, led the U.S. through its greatest internal crisis. If he hadn’t won the Civil War, America would have disintegrated. Yet, he had a difficult time convincing a large part of the Northern electorate that military action and a military draft were necessary. At the time, most Democrats were against the war, feeling it was a failure and a waste. (Interestingly enough, that’s how many Democrats have felt about very war this nation has fought in since World War II.)
Make no mistake, Abe closely supervised the war effort and tactics. He and General Ulysses S. Grant agreed on battlefield strategy – a strategy that most other Union generals disagreed with. One of those generals –Meade, if memory serves me correctly – admitted to Lincoln that Grant won battles, but complained that Grant was drunk half the time. Responded Lincoln: “Well then, I suggest you give a bottle of whatever he’s drinking to all our other generals!”
Then there was the matter of slavery. George actually owned about 317 people and, even though he wasn’t particular supportive of slavery and probably wished it would be abolished, he didn’t free them until his death. However, Lincoln was always a forcible, outspoken opponent of slavery and, with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, brought it to an end.
Political scientists and historians, who are supposed to know about such things, agree that our greatest president was either Washington or Lincoln. They just disagree about which one. But there is universal agreement that our third greatest president was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led this country through the Great Depression and World War II.
You wanna know about FDR? No need to resort to textbooks or the Internet. Just ask anyone who’s about 75 or 80 years old.