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PRESIDENTS DAY - February 16, 2006

Presidents Day will be observed on Monday, Feb. 20. The original version of the holiday was to commemorate George Washington’s birthday in 1796, which was his last full year to serve as president. By the early 19th century, traditional celebrations included birthday ball, speeches and receptions by prominent public figures and a lot of revelry in taverns across the nation. Then came Abraham Lincoln, another much loved president, whose birthday was on Feb. 12. The first recognized observance of his birthday was in 1865, the year after his assassination. Both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address. Even though it did not become a federal holiday, it did become a legal holiday in several states. Legislation was passed in 1968 that affected several federal holidays, including Washington’s Birthday, which was shifted to the third Monday in February. It was combined with Lincoln’s birthday and also honors all presidents.


Washington was born in 1732. He was not a great scholar, but was outstanding in mathematics. His last two years in school were devoted to engineering, geometry, trigonometry, and surveying. At the age of 16, he was appointed public surveyor. One authority said, he was “engaged to survey these wild territories for a doubloon a day, camping out for months in the forest, in peril from Indians and squatters.” The truth was that the backwoodsmen and Indians all liked him very much and he liked them. His surveying skills came in handy when in 1791, as president, he determined the boundaries of the new “Federal City” (Washington, D.C.) and the location of the public squares.

When he was 19, he was a major in one of the military districts of Virginia, leading his men in early battles of the French and Indian War. In 1755, he was an aide to Gen. Braddock in the campaign against Fort Duquesne. He received four bullet holes in his coat and had two horses shot under him, but came out safely, the only aide alive.

Between the French and Indian War, and the Revolution, he was able to settle down to farming and family life at Mt. Vernon.

 In 1789, he was inaugurated as first president of the U.S. He served in this capacity for eight years, with the welfare of this country in his capable hands. He enjoyed two more years of farm life before his death on Dec. 12, 1799. He caught cold while making the rounds of the plantation on horseback. He knew that he could not recover and his last words were, “I die hard, but am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I would not sur-vive it. My breath cannot last long. I feel myself going. I thank you for your attentions, but pray that you will take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long.” He then instructed his secretary about his burial, took his own pulse and quietly died as he lad lived, calm capable and considerate of others.

Thomas Jefferson later wrote, “Washington was a wise, good and great man. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with calm unconcern.”


Abraham Lincoln was known as a common man with little education. In his own words he said, “There was nothing to excite ambition for education.”

His mother died two years after they moved to Indiana, and a year later, his father married Mrs. Sally Johnson, who was described by Lincoln “as a fine lady who was the guide of my life and taught me all I know about the Bible.”

When Lincoln was 21, the family moved again to Illinois, where they built another home. He saw them settled there, but left to set out on his own. He was hired to help take a boatload of corn and pigs down to New Orleans. They stopped for a day in New Salem and he liked the people of the town so much that he settled there when returning from his trip. His public life began as he held about every position that was available. He also was company captain during the Black Hawk War.

In 1832, he started on the road to the White House. He was a candidate for state legislature and was defeated the first time, but then was elected for three terms. Lincoln began to study law the year he was elected. He met Ann Rutledge, who died in 1835 during their engagement. In 1837, he became a lawyer and moved to Springfield. In 1842, he married Mary Todd and they had four sons. Only one lived to adult life.

In 1847, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1856 became identified with the newly formed Republican Party. He ran for the U.S. Senate, but was defeated by Stephen Douglas. The outstanding speeches that he made in the famous debates with Douglas impressed the country and he was nominated for the presidency in 1860. While campaigning for president, people flocked to train stations to see and hear him.

The last four years of his life were the years of the “War between the States.” Lincoln left no doubt as to how he stood on slavery. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” When he was elected, the South prepared for war, and within six weeks, fired on Ft. Sumter.

He was chosen president for a second term and in his inaugural address he spoke of his job of “bringing the country together again in harmony.” Just six days after the end of the war, his life came to an end when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. People across the nation paid tribute to him. He was described by Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War in Lincoln’s cabinet, as a man who belongs to the ages. The following words are found at 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; 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.”

Two different men with two different backgrounds, from two different times in our history, left their impact on our nation.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:


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