Happy Presidents Day everyone!
The men etched in to the side of Mt. Rushmore are some of the greatest Americans to have ever graced our country with their leadership. Today we celebrate all of America’s presidents collective birthdays. So, I thought I would talk about these four.
Washington’s birthday, January 22, is the inspiration for this holiday. He is the first person on the left of Mt Rushmore and, of course, our first president. Washington was our revolutionary general and led our troops to victory over an oppressive regime and birthed our great nation. He led our fledgling country as our first president while we figured out what it meant to be a democratic republic. But, perhaps, his greatest contribution was deciding to step aside after two terms in office and allow someone else to take over the power as Commander in Chief. Even the defeated King of England, George III, saw the greatness in this act commenting that, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Today, he is still revered as many to be the greatest of our presidents.
Our third president, and second man on the left of Rushmore, was Thomas Jefferson. He is the primary author of our Declaration of Independence. While president, he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France and helped to push our country towards the Pacific Ocean. By all accounts he was a great wordsmith, but lacked the gift of oratory. He was an individual who believed ardently in freedom; the fact that it would be challenged and that it must be defended. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
The next fellow was controversial in his time and for many people he remains that way today. Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican and a progressive, a contradiction in today’s political environment for sure. He was a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War. As president, he rooted out corruption in big business helping to bust up monopolies and instituted the “Square Deal” to help level the playing field for all citizens. He was a naturalist and protected a lot of lands by creating National Parks, Forests, and Monuments. He flexed the U.S.’s military muscle by sending his “Great White Fleet” around the world in a show of strength. He also helped to orchestrate a revolution in Columbia in order to create the country of Panama and get the rights to the land on the isthmus to construct the Panama Canal. Teddy accomplished a lot in less than eight years in office. He saw indecision as a great threat to our country’s ability to move forward. “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
The last figure on the mountain side is Abraham Lincoln. Perhaps the greatest of all presidential leaders, he inherited a divided country and had to make harder choices than any other president before or since. He had to lead a country at war with itself, “a house divided,” and find a way to hold it together. I think his greatest accomplishment might have been the way he led the country towards reconciliation in the days following the Civil War. It is one thing to bitterly fight for what you believe, but another thing entirely to forgive and welcome back those who you viciously fought against. “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.”
Today, the President is the leader of the free world, a concept that Americans at times seem to take for granted. Freedom like ours is unique in the course of human history. Even today there are many who long for the freedoms we take for granted. We are free to set our own destinies, to agree or disagree with those in power, and so long as we respect our fellow citizens we can do so without fear of persecution. At least that is how it was intended to be. Today our society seems to have broken down to a state of allowing, if not encouraging, extreme negative descent when we don’t agree with one another.
I was out for a hike last week and overheard a college student lamenting to one of her friends about how she couldn’t understand how people could believe the way that Trump does and that she wanted to cut those bigoted people out of her life. I see a lot of posts on Facebook exposing similar things about Trump’s opposition. Like many of my fellow Americans, I find this state of affairs to be disheartening. Our country is made better by loyal opposition to those in power. Loyalty to our great nation and each other is the key to constructive opposition. Not loyalty to ideology, but to our fellow citizens. Try to see the good in the argument of those who oppose you…you might learn something. If not, we might find ourselves once again proving Jefferson right about our liberty costing us “the blood of patriots.”