|02-21-2005, 12:25 PM||#1|
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Join Date: Dec 2002
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States. "As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion. At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, he fought the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command of his ill-trained troops and embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling years.
He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He reported to Congress, "we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn." Ensuing battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with the aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he soon realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning well, so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington President
He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution gave Congress. But the determination of foreign policy became preponderantly a Presidential concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war between France and England, Washington refused to accept entirely the recommendations of either his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Rather, he insisted upon a neutral course until the United States could grow stronger.
To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his first term. Wearied of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of his second. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances.
Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon, for he died of a throat infection December 14, 1799. For months the Nation mourned him.
George Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851
|02-21-2005, 12:27 PM||#2|
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Join Date: Dec 2002
Lincoln warned the South in his Inaugural Address: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."
Lincoln thought secession illegal, and was willing to use force to defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter and forced its surrender, he called on the states for 75,000 volunteers. Four more slave states joined the Confederacy but four remained within the Union. The Civil War had begun.
The son of a Kentucky frontiersman, Lincoln had to struggle for a living and for learning. Five months before receiving his party's nomination for President, he sketched his life:
"I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families--second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks.... My father ... removed from Kentucky to ... Indiana, in my eighth year.... It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up.... Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher ... but that was all."
Lincoln made extraordinary efforts to attain knowledge while working on a farm, splitting rails for fences, and keeping store at New Salem, Illinois. He was a captain in the Black Hawk War, spent eight years in the Illinois legislature, and rode the circuit of courts for many years. His law partner said of him, "His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest."
He married Mary Todd, and they had four boys, only one of whom lived to maturity. In 1858 Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for Senator. He lost the election, but in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860.
As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Further, he rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.
Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg: "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the war. In his planning for peace, the President was flexible and generous, encouraging Southerners to lay down their arms and join speedily in reunion.
The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.: "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.... "
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the South. The opposite was the result, for with Lincoln's death, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died.
Allan Pinkerton of the secret service, President Lincoln, and Major General John McClernand, 1862
|02-21-2005, 12:34 PM||#3|
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Join Date: Dec 2002
Presidents Day Holiday Begins with Washington and Lincoln
By Andrew J. Baroch
21 February 2005
This Monday, February 21, is a national holiday across America, a day set aside not only to celebrate the February birthdays of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln...but also to honor all past presidents of the United States.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed a federal law that proclaimed the third Monday in February a national holiday called Presidents Day. The law ended the longstanding American custom of celebrating two national holidays in February to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and George Washington on the 22nd. Some critics of the combined holiday believe Presidents Day -- in honoring all past U.S. presidents, detracts from the unique contributions made to the nation by Washington and Lincoln.
Seth Fein, an American History professor at Yale University, says most Americans consider the two men to have been the nation's greatest presidents. "George Washington, obviously, is the general who headed the Continental Army and the first president of the United States and in many ways, the personification of the United States in the beginning of its political history as an independent state," he says. Lincoln is so deeply revered "for being president during the Civil War [1861-1865]...putting the country back together."
Without George Washington, there may not have been a United States of America. "He was a figure that was so respected that he helped launch a nation when people from different parts of the country remained still very suspicious of each other," says University of Virginia American History Professor Michael Holt. "In fact, there was concern about warfare breaking out among differing states. But everybody agreed that he was the one person that all could agree on as the first president...so he was, I think, indispensable."
Professor Holt praises Washington as a forceful leader who established important precedents in the relationship between the President and Congress -- for example, when his administration was negotiating a treaty with several American Indian tribes.
"The wording of the Constitution gives the president authority to conduct foreign policy with 'advice and consent' of the Senate," he says. "Washington comes to the Senate to seek their advice about the terms of the treaty. The Senators get all flustered and say they have to debate this to arrive at a consensus to give you advice. Washington just turned around and walked out. And, from then on, foreign policy has been conducted with the 'consent' in terms of ratification of treaties...but no direct advice [from the Senate] going into making them."
Like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln is perceived as a leader who guided the nation through a critical and dangerous transition. Without Lincoln, the nation might not have survived its Civil War. "Some people say he was an intuitive military strategist," says Michael Holt. "He had an ability to explain the meaning of the war to the northern public in memorable terms."
That is something he did so eloquently in a brief and famous address honoring the soldiers killed in a battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863. "There's that wonderful prose," Professor Holt points out, "about what we say here will little be remembered but what they did here will always be remembered...and that the purpose of the war was that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the face of the earth."
Abraham Lincoln is also remembered for his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which freed the slaves in the rebellious southern states. Mr. Lincoln's commitment to end slavery was also a theme of his second inaugural address in 1865, as historian Holt recalls. "If we must shed a drop of blood for every drop of blood squeezed from the slaves over 200 years, we'll do it in order to prevail in this contest...It's really that message where he makes it clear that ending slavery is as important a commitment as unifying the nation."
Americans have also come to know the personal sides of Presidents Lincoln and Washington, and they know that neither man was perfect. George Washington, for instance, was a slave owner. But historian Seth Fein believes that, when Americans reflect on their past presidents, they usually look beyond their flaws. "The fact that many people can identify with George Washington, Presidents Day, the United States despite knowing those things," he says, "might speak to the need for political symbols, for national identity, and for heroes."
On Presidents Day, Americans honor those heroes who've held the nation's highest office over the past two centuries.