Dr. Bill Atwood

Honoring past presidents

This coming weekend, we celebrate President’s Day and honor those men and women who have served in that role. The two presidents who seem to get the most attention are George Washington and Abe Lincoln.

George Washington led this nation’s war effort against the mightiest army and navy in the entire world, and with cunning and bravery and a great deal of guts, he led his troops on to victory. He knew who the enemy was and he went after them. George Washington used battle tactics that where unheard of in his day but he did what generals are supposed to do - he led his troops. He was decisive and he was trusted by his soldiers. They followed him because they could trust him.

Washington served as the president of the Constitutional Convention. Since he was regarded as the most trusted man in America, his leading that convention made people listen to and accept what they created.

Later, when the new nation was looking for a leader, he was offered the throne. He responded that he had just fought to relieve the American people from the tyranny of a monarch and wanted no part in that kind of leadership position.

The leaders countered with an elected position to be called the presidency with a limited term of office of four years. Washington expressed a willingness to serve and he was elected to his first term. Four years later he was re-elected and four years later he stated that it was time for a new leader. It was Washington who established the idea of only serving two terms.

It wasn’t until Franklin Roosevelt saw himself as worthy of more power for a longer time that he ran for a third and then a fourth term. After his fourth election, the Congress and the states amended the Constitution to prevent that from happening ever again.

Lincoln was the first Republican to be elected president. John C. Fremont had run four years earlier in 1856 on the anti-slavery Republican Party ticket. The Southern states had threatened to secede from the Union if Lincoln became president because of his anti-slavery stance. After Lincoln became president in March of 1861, the following month the attack on Fort Sumter took place and the Civil War began.

Lincoln had to lead a divided nation into war and he had to handle the delicate political issues of his day to hold the rest of the Union together. During his time in office, he not only served as Commander-in-Chief of the military and used his authority to hire and fire generals and approved battles, he also handled other business of the nation.

The building of the transcontinental railroad was a part of the Republican Party ticket along with the ending of slavery when Lincoln ran for office. He got it done and it took a great deal of politicking to do so. There were great costs involved and many borders to cross.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation granting freedom to the slaves of the Southern states. It was a savvy political move but also a great military strategy as well. Slaves who fought against the army of the rebellion could earn their freedom.

In 1864, during some of the worst times of the Civil War, Lincoln took the time to look ahead and he signed the Yosemite Land Grant. Later Yosemite became a part of the National Park system and today we all enjoy that wonderful location.

On Sunday, while many watched the Super Bowl, Carol and I were in Yosemite and I marveled not only at its splendor but at the visionary thinking of Lincoln to set aside the land for the rest of us.

These men inspire us because they understood this country and respected the people and the rights of the people. They saw the importance of limited government and yet they saw where government needed to take control. The importance in honoring them is that they honored “We the People.” Washington had lived under a king who acted as a tyrant and fought against that king. He knew the danger of allowing the leaders to take too much power.

Lincoln saw the need for the Union to remain together as a house undivided. He knew a divided house would soon fall and European powers would step in and this continent would have been carved into many parts. He showed compassion at the end of the Civil War with the attitude of, “Malice toward none and charity for all.”

As the election season kicks into higher gear and the campaigns take off, let’s remind ourselves of the noble acts of those who have served as president of the United States and let us pray that current and future presidents will lead us following the example of a Washington or Lincoln.