Surprising Facts About Washington and Lincoln: How Their Humility Created and Saved Our Nation

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Surprising facts about Washington and Lincoln: How their humility created and saved our nation

February 17, 2020  |  READ TIME: 5 minutes
In The Daily Article today:

  • Why Washington was “the greatest man in the world”
  • How Lincoln was “the humblest of all of you”
  • What humility is and is not
A top health official is reporting that forty-four Americans on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan have been infected with the deadly coronavirus. Hundreds are fleeing Jackson, Mississippi, as the Pearl River rises to its highest level in decades. And authorities have confirmed the deaths of two men killed in a large avalanche in Colorado.

When diseases and disasters make the daily headlines, it’s easy to conclude that we are facing unprecedented challenges. So, let’s draw some encouragement from the presidents whose birthdays we celebrate today.

A holiday with three apostrophes 

Washington’s Birthday is a United States federal holiday observed on the third Monday in February. The day honors George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732. Some states also celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, 1809.

However, most states have combined the two into Presidents’ Day (the usage in Texas and nine other states), President’s Day (the usage in nine states), or Presidents Day (the usage in four states). Some states use the occasion to honor all of our presidents.

Wherever we place the apostrophe, it is fitting that we set aside a day to remember George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for what they did and, significantly, what they did not do.

“He’s the greatest man in the world” 

In The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians, David M. Rubenstein interviews experts on some of the leading figures in American history. He begins, of course, with our first president.

Rubenstein notes that Washington “essentially invented the office [of president] and established traditions and practices still in use more than two hundred years later.” He fulfilled three roles that helped birth our nation.

First, Washington led our troops to victory over the seemingly invincible British forces. Second, he presided over the Constitutional Convention, a gathering that was unlikely to have occurred, much less succeeded, without his presence. Third, as the first US president, he ensured that the new American government would work and set precedents that have helped to guide his successors.

Americans are familiar with these remarkable achievements. But many of us are less familiar with the crucial significance of what came next.

In Washington’s day (and ours), generals who led revolutions usually held onto power as long as they could. Washington could readily have had a third term and presumably served as president until his death. A Senate committee wanted to call him “His Highness, the President of the United States, and the Protector of their Liberties.”

He refused such an imperial title and a third term, allowing the American people to elect his successor and thus ensuring that our democratic experiment would become a reality. In a day when the world was ruled by kings and emperors in crowns and robes, he chose for the now-familiar Gilbert Stuart portrait to wear a simple black suit.

At the end of Washington’s second presidential term, England’s King George III said, “If George Washington gives up power, as I hear he’s going to, he’s the greatest man in the world.”

In many ways, he was.

“I’m the humblest of all of you” 

Rubenstein interviewed Doris Kearns Goodwin on our sixteenth president. She noted that when the Republican contenders for president were photographed, probably in 1859, Abraham Lincoln was not even mentioned. William Seward was expected to be the nominee; Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates were the other candidates with the largest support.

Lincoln never attacked the other three. During the Republican Convention, he knew he would not be the delegates’ first preference, so he positioned himself as their second choice. When Seward failed to gain a majority on the first ballot, delegates began considering Lincoln, who won the nomination on the third ballot.

Most politicians would have moved to delegitimize such powerful rivals, but Lincoln did the opposite. He immediately reached out to his rivals with letters that said, “I’m the humblest of all of you. I need your support.” The three ended up campaigning for him, then joined his cabinet when he won. And their leadership was indispensable throughout Lincoln’s administration and the preservation of the Union.

“Humility comes before honor” 

Without the humility of George Washington, our republic could have become a monarchy before it began. Without the humility of Abraham Lincoln, our union could have been dissevered forever.

The best way to honor them is to follow their example.

The first temptation is the root of all temptation: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Friedrich Nietzsche correctly observed that the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature.

Today is a good day to remember that “when pride comes, then comes disgrace, and humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33). To make progress with humility, consider Rick Warren’s observation: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

And thinking more of your Lord. C. S. Lewis: “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Are you looking down or up today?

 

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American Minute with Bill Federer
George Washington’s Birthday-First Presidents Day
Presidents’ Day is actually Washington’s birthday, recognized by an Act of Congress for government offices in Washington, D.C., in 1879, and for all federal offices in 1885.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create more three day weekends moved the observance of Washington’s birthday to the third Monday in February.
As Abraham Lincoln was also born in February, so many States include him in the observance, and still other States include all the Presidents.
George Washington was born FEBRUARY 22, 1732.
He was:
  • unanimously chosen as the Army’s Commander-in-Chief;
  • unanimously chosen as President of the Constitutional Convention;
  • unanimously chosen as the first U.S. President;
  • unanimously re-elected to a second term.
George Washington was an Anglican, and, after the Revolution, an Episcopalian.
George’s great-great-grandfather, Rev. Lawrence Washington, was an Anglican minister who taught at Oxford.
Lawrence and his wife, Amphyllis Twigen, had a son named John.
When the the Puritans won the English Civil War in 1651, Anglican ministers were demoted. Lawrence was reduced to being an assistant minister – a vicar – at an impoverished parish in Essex, England.
It was during this time that John Washington, George Washington’s great-grandfather, apprenticed as a merchant in London.
He sailed as second officer on a ship to the Colony of Virginia to purchase tobacco.
In 1657, when a storm partially sank their vessel in the Potomac River, John swam ashore.
While the ship was being repaired, John stayed at the home of a planter Colonel Nathaniel Pope, and fell in love with his daughter, Anne. John never returned to England.
John and Anne married, and her father gave them 700 acres in Westmoreland County.
John Washington became a successful planter and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.
He was a militia leader during Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion against Governor William Berkeley in 1676.
A local Anglican church was renamed “Washington” in honor of John Washington.
When John died, he left to the church a tablet of the Ten Commandments. His Will stated:
“In the Name of God, Amen. I, John Washington, of Washington Parish, in the County of Westmoreland, in Virginia, gentleman, being of good and perfect memory, thanks be unto Almighty God for it,
and calling to remembrance the uncertain state of this transitory life, that all flesh must yield unto death, do make, constitute, and ordain this my last will and testament …
… First, being heartily sorry, from the bottom of my heart, for my sins past, most humbly desiring forgiveness of the same from the Almighty God, my Savior and Redeemer, in whom and by the merits of Jesus Christ, I trust and believe assuredly to be saved, and to have full remission and forgiveness of all my sins,
and that my soul with my body at the general resurrection shall rise again with joy.”
The oldest of John Washington’s sons was Lawrence, the grandfather of George Washington.
Lawrence married Mildred Warner, the daughter of Col. Augustine Warner, Jr., an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.
Lawrence and Mildred had three children, the second being Augustine, who would become George Washington’s father.
When Lawrence died in 1698, Mildred married George Gale and moved back to England with her children.
When Mildred died, a relative in America petitioned to get custody of her children, including Augustine, and they were returned to Virginia in 1704.
Augustine Washington served as a vestryman in the Anglican Truro Parish.
He and his wife Jane Butler had two sons live to adulthood, Lawrence and Augustine Jr.
Both Lawrence and Augustine, Jr., went back to England to study at the prestigious Appleby Grammar School.
Jane died in 1729.
Augustine married Mary Ball in 1731, and together they had 6 children, with the oldest, George Washington, being born February 22, 1732.
Augustine died in 1743 when George was only 11-years-old.
George’s older half-brother Lawrence fought in the British navy under Admiral Edward Vernon, who had captured Porto Bello, Panama, from Spain in 1739.
When Lawrence returned to Virginia in 1742, he named his farm after his navy Admiral — Mount Vernon.
Lawrence married Anne Fairfax.
Her father, Col. William Fairfax, had been Collector of Customs in Barbados, and Chief Justice and Governor of the Bahamas, as well as a first cousin of Thomas Fairfax, who was the largest land owner in America with five million acres.
Lawrence arranged for George, at age 15, to begin a career in the British navy as a cabin boy, but his mother, Mary Ball Washington, refused.
George complied with his mother’s wishes and returned home.
In 1748, the 16-year-old George Washington was employed by Thomas Fairfax to survey the western area of his vast estate.
In 1751, Lawrence Washington contracted tuberculosis.
In hopes that a change of climate would help him recover, doctors recommended he travel to Barbados, where his father-in-law had been Collector of Customs.
He brought along his 17-year-old half-brother George.
This was the only time that George left the American continent.
In Barbados, George contracted smallpox, but recovered. This providentially inoculated George so that he was immune during the Revolutionary War, where it is estimated that more soldiers died of smallpox than in battle.
Lawrence died in 1752 and his Mount Vernon estate eventually was inherited by George, making him one of the youngest and largest landowners in Virginia.
George became vestryman in Truro Parish, and was godfather in baptism to several nephews and a niece.
From 1753-1758, George served in the French and Indian War.
He was a colonel under General Edward Braddock, Commander of the British forces in America.
George miraculously survived the Battle of Monongehela in 1755.Braddock was killed, leaving George in command.
On July 18, 1755, Washington wrote from Fort Cumberland to his brother, John A. Washington:
“By the All-Powerful Dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”
Colonel Washington wrote to Fort Loudoun, April 17, 1758:
“The last Assembly … provided for a chaplain to our regiment. On this subject I had often without any success applied to Governor Dinwiddie. I now flatter myself, that your honor will be pleased to appoint a sober, serious man for this duty. Common decency, Sir, in a camp calls for the services of a divine.”
In 1759, George fell in love Martha “Patsy” Dandridge Custis, a 26-year-old widow and mother with two children, John “Jacky” Parke Custis and Martha “Patsy” Parke Custis.
Martha had inherited five plantations totaling 17,500 acres.
Martha’s daughter Patsy died at age 16 of an epileptic seizure in 1773, while George held her in his arms. He wrote:
“The sweet, innocent girl entered into a more happy and peaceful abode than she had met in the afflicted path she had hitherto trod.”
In 1775, after the Battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington was commissioned as the General of the Continental Army.
He wrote to Martha, June 18, 1775:
“My Dearest … It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defense of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take up command of it.
You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it …
But as it has been a kind of Destiny, that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking it is designed to answer some good purpose …
I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safely to you in the fall.”
On July 4, 1775, General Washington ordered:
“The General … requires … observance of those articles of war … which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness; And … requires … punctual attendance of Divine Services.”
On October 2, 1775, General George Washington issued the order:
“Any … soldier who shall hereafter be detected playing at toss-up, pitch, and hustle, or any other games of chance … shall without delay be confined and punished …
The General does not mean by the above to discourage sports of exercise or recreation, he only means to discountenance and punish gaming.”
On February 26, 1776, General Washington issued the orders:
“All … soldiers are positively forbid playing at cards and other games of chance. At this time of public distress men may find enough to do in the service of their God and their country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.”
Washington acknowledged God throughout the Revolution, as he wrote on May 15, 1776:
“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant to be observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God,
that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation;
the General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress;
that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”
On July 2, 1776, from his Head Quarters in New York, General Washington issued his General Orders:
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own;
whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them.
The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.
Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore to resolve to conquer or die …”
He continued:
“Our own country’s honor calls upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world.
Let us rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”
When the Declaration of Independence was written, a copy was rushed out to Washington, who was fortifying New York City.
He had it read to his troops, then ordered chaplains placed in each regiment, stating July 9, 1776:
“The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier, defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.”
As recorded in The Writings of George Washington (March 10, 1778, 11:83-84, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934), George Washington ordered:
“At a General Court Marshall … Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcom’s Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy, with John Monhort a soldier…and do sentence him to be dismiss’d the service with Infamy.
His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Liett. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning by all the Drummers and Fifers in the Army never to return.”
General Washington wrote at Valley Forge, May 2, 1778:
“To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to laud the more distinguished Character of Christian.”
To the Delaware Indian Chiefs who brought three youths to be trained in American schools, General Washington stated, May 12, 1779:
“You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.”
The tremendous victory at the Battle of Yorktown, October 19, 1781, securing America’s independence, was personally bittersweet for Washington, as his wife’s son, John Parke Custis, who had been an aide-de-camp, died there of camp fever, November 5, 1781.
Though never having children of his own, George agreed to adopt John Parke Custis’ two young children as his own: Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, whose daughter, Mary Anna, married Robert E. Lee.
When the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate for the new nation George Washington agreed to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
In 1789, he was sworn in as the first President of the United States.
President Washington thanked God for the Constitution, October 3, 1789:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God …
I do recommend … rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for … the favorable interpositions of His Providence … we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war … for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government.”
In 1794, during the Whiskey Rebellion, Washington became the only sitting President, as Commander-in-Chief, to lead the United States Army into the field.
Washington chose only to served two terms as President, leaving an example which every succeeding President follow till Franklin Roosevelt, necessitating the 22nd Amendment.
Washington continually had toothaches. By the time of his Inauguration, he had only one tooth.
Several dentists made make-shift dentures for him.
Washington had slaves from inheritance, marriage, and purchase, as did almost half of the founders.
As the influence of Baptists, Methodists and Quakers spread, many founders abandoned slavery — similar to today, how more and more pro-abortion supporters are becoming pro-life.
Washington freed his mulatto man William:
“And to my Mulatto man William (calling himself William Lee) I give immediate freedom … I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life…& this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.”
In his Will, Washington freed the rest of his slaves upon his wife Martha’s death. Martha freed them the year after Washington died.
In his Will, George also made provision that elderly and sick slaves were to be supported by his estate in perpetuity.
As the early country took shape, partisan politics became increasingly vicious, with Washington even being the victim of ungracious attacks.
He warned how ambitious politicians would be tempted to use crises as opportunities to usurp power.
In his Farewell Address, 1796, Washington stated:
“Disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual … (who) turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty …
The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism …
Let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Earlier, in 1783, the American-born painter Benjamin West was in England painting the portrait of King George III.
When the King asked what General Washington planned to do now that he had won the war.
West replied:
“They say he will return to his farm.”
King George exclaimed:
“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Poet Robert Frost once wrote:
“I often say of George Washington that he was one of the few men in the whole history of the worlds who was not carried away by power.”
Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of John Adams, wrote:
“More than all, and above all, Washington was master of himself. If there be one quality more than another in his character which may exercise a useful control over the men of the present hour, it is the total disregard of self when in the most elevated positions for influence and example.”
George Washington added a warning in his Farewell Address, 1796:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.
In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness.”
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