Senator John ThuneOn February 18th the nation will celebrate President's Day, which is not a celebration of all of the Presidents in our nation's history, but rather a remembrance of the two men who have guided our nation through its stormiest days: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
No President in our history has coasted through the office without facing significant challenges, but those with which Lincoln and Washington had to contend stand apart. Washington's leadership as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution is his most celebrated achievement, but his guidance of the Republic during its earliest days is no less important.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in Virginia. He was drawn to military service, and became an officer in the Virginia militia at the age of 20. Washington distinguished himself as an effective soldier while serving in the British army in the struggle with France over control of the American interior.
Washington's leadership of the Continental Army during the American Revolution is firmly engrained in American lore, but it bears highlighting to say that in the face of seemingly impossible odds Washington persevered and led his troops to victory. As President, he established the protocols of the office, established the United States as a political entity free from Europe, and guided the nation as it found its own identity in the world.
The nation was deeply divided on the question of slavery for many years before the eruption of the Civil War in 1861. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 and came of age as a young lawyer and legislator in a time when the national debate over slavery reached a fever pitch. By the time he first pursued a U.S. Senate seat in 1854 and later in 1858, the debate over the expansion of slavery into the unorganized western territories threatened to tear the nation apart.
Lincoln's election to the Presidency in 1860 on a platform of limiting slavery to where it existed fueled the eventual secession of 11 states and the four year war which evolved into a struggle that upheld the principle of equality for all Americans. Lincoln's leadership during this time of overwhelming crisis cost him his life, but he lives on as a symbol of our union and the blessings of liberty for all Americans, and for oppressed people around the globe.
Neither Lincoln nor Washington was perfect, and perhaps their human failings make them more accessible to all individuals. Both men overcame shortcomings to take the reins of the nation at times of great uncertainty and both left the nation stronger than when they found it. It is worth noting how faith guided both men through some of their deepest struggles.
So long as America exists as a nation, we will call upon individuals to lead us as President. It is my hope that all Americans, but especially our leaders, continue to draw inspiration and guidance from the lessons of two of our greatest heroes.