Monday, February 18, 2013, is “Presidents Day” in the United States. It is a federal holiday which originated as two holidays before 1971–it was primarily noted as George Washington’s birthday on February 22, and secondarily includes Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. The 90th Congress in 1968 created a uniform system of federal Monday holidays and they voted to shift three existing holidays–which included Washington’s birthday–to Mondays, and that law took effect in 1971 (quote source here).
Our first President, George Washington, born on February 22, 1732, served as President from 1789 to 1797. “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” (quote source WhiteHouse.gov). Under his presidency, The Constitution of the United States was ratified and the Supreme Court met for the first time in 1790. Also, the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) was ratified on December 15 of that same year (quote source: “Forward: America’s Presidents from Washington to Obama,” Whitman Publishing, 2013, p. 221). It was on September 18, 1793, in his second term, that “he laid the first foundation stone for the United States Capital building in what was to be called Federal City, in the District of Columbia, carved out of Maryland and Washington not far from his Mount Vernon estate” (quote source, “Forward” et al, p. 217). The city was renamed “Washington” in honor of George Washington in 1791 (source here).
In George Washington’s famous “Farewell Address,” published in The Independent Chronicle on September 26, 1796, he announced his withdrawal from politics after 45 years of service. In his “Farewell Address,” he “extolled the benefits of the federal government (it’s unity is ‘a main pillar in the edifice of real independence . . . of tranquility at home, peace abroad; of safety; of prosperity; of that very liberty which we so highly prize’); he warned against the party system; he stressed the importance of religion and morality; he stressed ‘stable public credit’ and warned against an accumulation of debt; and he warned against permanent foreign alliances and an over-powerful military establishment” (quote source here).
“George Washington finished his second term as the first President of the United States in 1797. Weary of the political infighting surrounding the presidency, he longed for the peace of retirement to his beloved Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, his solitude lasted less than three years as he died on December 14, 1799 at age 67” (quote source here). The nation went into mourning.
Abraham Lincoln, born on February 12, 1809, served as our 16th President from 1861 to 1865. Many excellent books and biographies have been written on Abraham Lincoln (here’s a list of several of them on Amazon.com) who is considered to be one of our greatest presidents. During his presidency the country was split and marked by the Civil War and the issue of slavery. As president-elect in November 1860, his “stance against slavery was intolerable to the South, and in December 1860 the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by six others, and these states soon formed the Confederate States of America” (quote source: “Forward: America’s Presidents from Washington to Obama,” Whitman Publishing, 2013, p. 273).
“By the time of his inauguration in March 1861, the Civil War began barely a month later. Contrary to expectations, Lincoln proved to be a shrewd military strategist and a savvy leader during what became the costliest conflict ever fought on American soil. His Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, freed all slaves in the rebellious states and paved the way for slavery’s eventual abolition, while his Gettysburg Address later that year stands as one of the most famous and influential pieces of oratory in American history” (quote source here).
Abraham Lincoln was reelected to a second term in 1865, and on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee (Confederate) surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant (Union) thus ending the Civil War–“but not before more than a million men had been killed or injured, making it the nation’s bloodiest conflict” (quote source, “Forward” et al, p. 281). It was less than a week later, on April 14, 1865, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth, a famous stage actor who was sympathetic to the Confederacy. Lincoln died in the early morning hours on April 15th (source, “Forward” et al, p. 281).
Presidents’ Day not only commemorates George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but all of the past presidents of the United States. Currently, there are four past presidents still living and active (Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) and, of course, our current president, Barack Obama.
The other day when I was at the public library, I ran across a wonderful book by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy titled, “The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” published by Simon and Schuster, 2012. It starts with President Truman and ends with President Obama and is about the relationships between presidents and ex-presidents. As one reviewer, “Doyle,” at Amazon.com states, “When one is about fed up with politics and elections, this read is reassuring–that the U.S. system works: the transition of presidents is reasonably smooth, conversations with predecessors does occur, and the service of former presidents has great value.” Another reviewer, “Grandma Sue,” wrote: “My book club loved this pick and learned so much about how things get done in government. The personal stories of how the ex-presidents became friends, assisted one another, and protected the office of the president despite party affiliation was fascinating and lead to so many topics to discuss as a group. Book clubs tend to be women but there is much interest among men whom I have told about this book.”
Before I go any further, I must admit that I am not a political animal. In fact, I have steered clear of politics, other than voting, my entire life. The bickering between the two parties grinds on my nerves, and I found it best to leave it with those folks who have been elected to hash out. Of course, I love my country and want the very best for it and for all of us who live in America, but I found that if I got too involved in what the media (on both the right and the left) puts out I would get so upset and in the long run, it just wasn’t worth it since both sides pander to their own agenda. And the truth gets lost in the shuffle.
And to tell you how very tired I was of it all, I almost didn’t vote this past November. I tore up the first mail-in ballot I received and then in a patriotic moment ordered a second mail-in ballot. I won’t say how I voted as that is a private matter but I was terribly conflicted and ended up voting with regard to two issues close to my heart. When the election was over I breathed a sigh of relief and told myself I wasn’t getting involved anymore with the hype the media puts out on a daily basis. The decision had been made and I was going back to my usual “non-political” and still unemployed self.
. . . And, I’ve stuck to it, too (although I wish the “unemployed” part in my description would end very, very soon). No more bickering on Facebook from “friends” on either side of the political spectrum; no more mudslinging in campaign ads; and no more opinions on who thinks who is best (or worst) for our country. And since I haven’t had TV for almost a year now (the new owners of my seasonal rental took out the satellite TV last April that was included in my rent under the old owners) my life has become a lot more serene without the blare of everyone’s opinions coming out of that box.
. . . And, I’ve found myself more open to “dissenting” opinions–at least willing to give them a second chance. I’ve always been willing to listen to them, but all the rhetoric and media stuff got in the way. And on a personal level, I’ve liked all of the presidents that have been a part of my adult life whether or not I voted for them. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to wear their shoes, and what they do is way above my pay level (which happens to be zero at the moment).
So with that being said, a month ago I ran across a wonderful book that I have already quoted in this blog post that was published in January 2013. It’s titled, “Forward: America’s Presidents From Washington to Obama (An Illustrated History of Barack Obama’s First Term and Historic Reelection),” by Q. David Bowers and Dave Lifton and published by Whitman Publishing, 2013. The first 211 pages are devoted to the Presidency of Barack Obama and while I haven’t read all 211 pages yet, I have been inspired by what I’ve been reading. The heart of the man shines through. And the rest of the book is about the rest of the presidents and some of the first ladies, too. It’s beautifully written and illustrated with many, many photographs.
Then I stumbled upon the 2012 book, “The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” just this past week at the public library, and to my own astonishment (because I rarely ever read anything regarding politics or politicians), I love what I’ve read so far and so much so that I just ordered a paperback copy of the book (available February 2013) to add to my book collection. While the book starts with the Truman presidency, I chose to start reading with the “Baby Boomer” presidents (Clinton and George W.) and the chapters on the two Bushes (father and son) to include the last chapter on Obama. Turns out that Bush (George W.) and Clinton were born only forty four days apart in 1946 (p. 457) and they are only six years older then me. However, they have accomplished far more in their lifetimes (and presidencies) than I could ever accomplish in five lifetimes (and especially since I’ve been unemployed for the past four years, too, just spinning my wheels trying to find employment). It is truly fascinating reading as well as heart-warming in many places.
Keep in mind that this book is not just about what our presidents since Truman have accomplished. It’s about their personal relationships and connections with each other, across political parties and differing viewpoints, that makes this book a real gem. It’s a side the public never gets to see. The Presidency of the United States is, indeed, “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” It’s truly a shame in America today that we spend so much time trashing the current administration (whatever administration happens to be in charge at the time) that we’ve lost respect for what the Office of the President stands for as the Commander in Chief of the Free World. And he’s also human just like the rest of us.
When I read about how the friendship with George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton started and how it has developed into a very unique and endearing friendship, and the same thing happened between Clinton and George W., it made me realize that even though politically these folks are polar opposites, what they have accomplished together in genuine friendship far surpasses all of the political stuff. And in the final chapter before the conclusion, when Barack Obama was elected President, “the ‘club’ swooped in to pat him on the back, teach him the secret handshake–and let him in on it’s oldest secret, ‘You know, they were all incredibly gracious,’ Obama said, after hearing from the brethren a few days after his election. ‘I think all of them recognized that there’s a certain loneliness to the job. You’ll get advice and you’ll get counsel. Ultimately, you’re the person who’s going to be making decisions. You can already feel that fact'” (p. 505).
Well, I haven’t begun to do justice to the book, but I do highly recommend it as it has been an eye-opening read for me regarding the friendships of folks many of us would think of as political enemies. An endorsement on the back of the book by Tom Brokaw states, “Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs have taken us inside one of the most powerful and unusual families in American life–the brotherhood of former presidents of the United States. Political junkies, historians, psychologists, and Main Street citizens will find the tales of friendship, envy, conspiracy, competition, and common cause irresistible.” And he’s right! The book is irresistible!
Presidents Day is right around the corner. While it may not get as much fanfare as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, the men who hold this office are deserving of the honor we can give them on this day–they hold or have held the most powerful office on earth, the Presidency of the United States of America. Regardless of our political affiliations and whether or not “our man” is in office, the President of the United States of America deserves our utmost respect and sincere appreciation–past Presidents included.
I’ll end this post with the words of Abraham Lincoln in the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address:
“. . . 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.”
May God greatly bless you,
President Barack Obama,
and all of your predecessors, too.
And may God Bless America
YouTubeVideo: “US National Anthem” by the Academy Choirs (2006):