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Today, Monday, February 20, 2023, our nation is celebrating Presidents’ Day; the truncated twofer that is now the single day designated to celebrate and honor the life of our First President George Washington, and our 16th President Abraham Lincoln.

We used to celebrate each of them on their February birthdays; Lincoln on Feb. 12 (1808) and Washington on February 22 (1732). In this day and age, it has become far too easy for so many to use the day to ski, sun, or perhaps just to do laundry or catch up on the marathon Yellowstone series on television. But their examples guide our republic to this day.

General George Washington was not only the Commander of the Continental Army, leading the ragtag patriots to victory in the Revolutionary War, but he was president of the Continental Congress that created the United States Constitution. He was unanimously elected to serve as our first president. If that doesn’t qualify him as the “Father of our county,” I don’t know what does.

Among his many achievements, were two acts of selfless devotion to democratic ideals that laid the groundwork for the values of this democracy.

The United States Capitol Rotunda. Photo by Jan Wondra

First, in 1783 when peace came, he resigned his commission as the head of the Continental Army, paving the way for civilian control of our military, and went home to his beloved Mount Vernon.

When the groundswell of public adoration wanted to make him a king, he declined. Instead, the office of the president was created. When his term ended, he handed off the presidency to John Adams, exemplifying the peaceful transition of power that solidifies us as a democracy.

If Washington was the Father of our country, then Lincoln saved the Union.

Long before Lincoln took office, it was a nation that had already been sundered between the North and the South over whether or not human beings could be bought, sold, and owned.

The westward thrust of the Mason-Dixon line meant that the South tried to continue slavery south of that line as the U.S. grew westward. It made war nearly inevitable.

It was a war where brothers fought brothers; families were divided over whether slavery and bigotry would survive. Slavery was ended. Bigotry was not.

When the war began, the dome of the Capitol was being built. Lincoln kept the construction going “so that people know the Union is going to endure.”

Lincoln’s dogged determination to save the Union saw America through the War between the States, with the worst cost of life ever on the North American continent. But when it was over, the Union held.

Before Lincoln’s presidency, our country was known as “These” United States of America. After the war, our country became “The” United States of America.