Celebrating Presidents' Day this year may be dampened by the extreme snowfall we had recently. There may not be parades or other outdoor activities, but I like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the two presidents who's birthdays originated the holiday.
The national holiday, Presidents’ Day, was originally a commemoration of George Washington's birthday. America's first president was born on February 22, 1732. After Washington's death, our nation began celebrating his birthday as a way to remember his life and how he contributed to establishing America's independence.
In 1865, the year after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, America began celebrating Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th. Until 1971, both February 12 and February 22 were observed as federal public holidays. In 1971, President Richard Nixon combined the two holidays into one and ever since we have honored all past presidents on the third Monday of February.
I like to feature two accounts of the presidents Washington and Lincoln which have moved me deeply.
“Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable Patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery” ~ George Washington
Long before George Washington became the first president of the United States, he proved himself as a great leader. He was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, which spent the winter of 1777-1778 camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia.
He pleaded the Congress for help and supplies, but nothings came. The encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78 is one of the most renowned aspects of the American Revolution. The hardships the ordinary soldier endured while living in makeshift log huts has become legendary.
Under these circumstances, George Washington didn’t just depend on his own wisdom, but he prayed to God for guidance. With the help of Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a skilled Prussian drillmaster, they transformed the regiments into a more effective fighting force. Finally, supplies arrived, as well the army recruited new soldiers from a diversified background. There were soldiers from different parts of the region, including Native Americans and African Americans. As they started building their huts, they had different ideas. It took George Washington’s leadership to mold the group together.
At one point, his wife, Martha Washington, arrived on her own accord, bringing food and other supplies for the soldiers. She also organized some of the wives, sisters and daughters of the soldiers who came to nurse the sick and serve the army of 12,000; 2,000 died of diseases and 4,000 were declared unfit for training. A local Oneida Indian woman brought dried corn and showed the others how to prepare it. That support finally lifted the morale of the troops.
Over the winter, the army changed dramatically. Slowly but steadily the soldiers' endurance, bravery, and sacrifices were rewarded. Increasing amounts of supplies and equipment came into camp. New troops arrived. Spring brought word of the French alliance with promises of military support. Now a stronger, dependable force, better-trained and hopeful of success, was ready to face the British armey.
The Gettysburg Address
Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln
At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
on November 19, 1863
"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- 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."
May we remeber their bravery and courage and celebrate these great leaders today.
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