Throughout our country’s history, we have enjoyed some extraordinary presidents and survived some frankly dreadful ones. But in this critical world, we sometimes look for excuses to criticize even our greatest leaders and neglect opportunities to honor them. From Thomas Jefferson’s slave ownership to Benjamin Franklin’s indiscretions, John Adams’ bouts with depression, and Abraham Lincoln’s alleged disregard for the Tenth Amendment; it has become fashionable to criticize the leaders who contributed to the greatness of this country.
None of our Founders or presidents has been without fault. Weaknesses can be exposed in all of us if weakness is what is sought. Political polarization has also contributed to presidential disdain in both parties. So intent are some to rid themselves of any president from another political party that they would rather hope for his failure than pray for his success even in areas of vital importance to our country—willing to sacrifice what is good for our nation for what is good for their party. I have heard it compared to celebrating when someone you don’t like is at fault in a wreck, even when it damages your own car. In his 1769 Farewell Address, George Washington warned of the “continual mischiefs of the spirit of [political] party” making it the “interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
In admiration of George Washington, Presidents’ Day was established in 1885 to commemorate his birthday. (The federal holiday is still officially designated as “Washington’s Birthday.”) It was not until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday in February and it has become a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present
On Washington’s 130th birthday in 1862, his Farewell Address was read aloud in the United States Congress. It has now become an annual tradition in the Senate. His advice may be even more relevant today than it was in 1769: “Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism….”
We cultivate patriotism by getting to know our homeland—her history, her personality, her virtues, and even her flaws. Discovering her treasures and defending her goodness will endear her to us. Honoring the presidents and other leaders who have molded her history and influence her destiny helps us appreciate the blessings of being Americans.
May we unite this Presidents’ Day and pray for our government leaders at every level, that they will be granted Divine guidance to better lead us, to better protect our nation and preserve our freedoms.6
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