Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents' Day? Celebrating George Washington and Abraham Lincoln

Some confusion may exist over Presidents Day. There was a time when American recognized both Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays on their actual calendar date. It is common practice today to celebrate so-called "Presidents Day" as a way of honoring both Presidents (with appropriate events such as big sales on mattresses and cars). Both men were great and shaped our history in major ways. There was a movement after the Revolutionary War to make George Washington our King (but Washington did not favor that plan). As our first President, he helped to form the patterns for the office and helped to draw the infant country together. Lincoln faced a country torn, one that was somewhat a dysfunctional family. He held strong to his principles and the fight to keep the United States intact.

Both were unique men and were different from each other. But they shared the trait of honoring God, whom they credited with the blessings our country enjoyed and to whom they both prayed for guidance. Their religious beliefs and actions will not likely be talked about on Presidents Day; that's not part of our current culture it seems. But faith was such an important of each man's personal life, they would probably have wanted to be know for all their traits, including their faith, when history books address them.

There is some confusion about the particular nature of George Washington's faith, but there is little doubt that he was a faithful man with a strong reliance on God. The Library of Congress' exhibit "Religion and the Federal Government" has this little article about a prayer that Washington penned:

Washington's Prayer The draft of the circular letter is in the hand of a secretary, although the signature is Washington's. Some have called this concluding paragraph "Washington's Prayer." In it, he asked God to: "dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."

And President Lincoln gave us these words in his second Inaugural address:

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'. 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."

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