PHOENIXVILLE - There are many divisive elements that currently concern our citizens as we prepare to celebrate Presidents' Day. It might be suitable if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln helped steer our nation's course in modern times as they did when each had the awesome responsibility of executive power.
Since we can't ask them to physically return to help us, their words spoken or written so eloquently generations ago might act as a beacon as we stumble through the darkness of fear, individual isolation, and lack of direction during this vital presidential election year.
"I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids, can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes...." Washington's First Inaugural Address, delivered to the Senate on April 30, 1789.
Later in the address he states, "We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the republican model of government are justly considered... entrusted to the hands of the American people."
Here was a man 56 years of age, who had risked his life for his country through two wars and wanted nothing more than to return to his beloved Virginia home. But he felt the call of God and the citizens of the new nation to serve two terms as president. The nation was bitterly divided over many issues and it was generally agreed that he was the only man who could provide the glue of union to overcome sectionalism and 13 independent states.
Please note the intensity of the plea to heaven to help him in this task.
Many presidents have made the same request to the Almighty but few packed Washington's credentials for honesty and integrity.
He was aware that the majority of men who wrote the Constitution also believed in the "eternal rules of order and right" and placed the Ten Commandments as the ultimate authority. The fact that they were later inscribed in the Supreme Court building but now aren't even permitted in schools would bring forth his soldier's ire.
Washington and many of the other Founding Fathers decried institutions as being the solutions to men's problems. Good men and good laws supported by responsible and knowledgeable citizens form the foundation for good government.
In his Farewell Address, Washington shared his wise counsel. His statements against the formation of political parties who may circumvent the general welfare of the people and prevent the election of good men are particularly appropriate today. "I have already intimated to you the dangers of parties in the state...Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally." His tirade speaks about creating artificial divisions, revenge, and control of unseen forces and pressure groups. He concludes: "This leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism."
In the coming elections, will our candidates speak about their policies to benefit the people or will they be busy attacking the other party's candidates for state or national offices? As a result the best man or woman for a particular office may not be elected because he or she wasn't part of the winning team in a given state.
Abraham Lincoln was best known for his actions during the Civil War and his Emancipation Proclamation. But he had sound advice for government leaders when confronted with a decision that was morally right but would be opposed by those politicians who put personal gain or influence above principles and by those who believed that appeasement to evil could ultimately result in good.
His major address at Coopers Union, New York, (Feb. 27, 1860) while running for the presidency has been hailed as one of the greatest in American political history. His carefully researched thoughts on the intention of the Founding Fathers to not allow slavery to extend into new federal territories, his strong belief in the union and evils of slavery are summarized near the end of his speech:
"Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the government, nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
As his final beacon to the leaders of today, Lincoln stated in his second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865): "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 nations' wounds, ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among OURSELVES and all nations."