, Newburyport, MA

February 18, 2013

Forgetting Lincoln and Washington

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

I am writing this on Feb. 12. That date should mean something, but I wonder if it does much anymore to most people.

In today’s Daily News the only reference to Abraham Lincoln that I saw was in the comic strip Arlo and Janis. At least someone is remembering him.

Last night while watching TV, I saw an ad for a car sale for Washington’s Birthday that ends Feb. 18. Huh? Does anyone even remember his birthday is the 22nd?

These two presidents appear to be getting lost in time. In the 19th century, George Washington was revered for his accomplishments as a hero of the Revolution and as our first president. When John Adams was elected president, Washington relinquished his power, an act never done in history where a victorious leader held power. Subsequently, Washington’s birthday was revered almost as much as July 4th. Special events would take place and children would learn about him in school.

Even when I was a kid, I recall my grandmother making a cherry pie in honor of Washington’s birthday. The lattice crust always amazed me and it was the one day of the year we had this treat, making it all the more special.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as 16th president of the United States. He walked into his job that day with a task no other in his post has had to deal with. A number of states claimed they were no longer in the country. More would follow.

Dealing with his own personal demons, Lincoln managed to operate as commander-in-chief for the Civil War. Lincoln even insisted that the election of 1864 proceed, for if not, then the Rebels would surely have won, destroying the only form of republican government on earth at the time. He was determined that the country would not break into pieces under his watch. He was successful in that task, but lost his life when the mending was to begin.

The mystique of Lincoln does continue. Steven Spielberg’s recent movie “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, is a must see for anyone interested in Lincoln, good acting and American history.

We are also in the middle of the Civil War Sesquicentennial and with that, I would have thought more focus on Lincoln’s birthday today than a comic strip.

A few years ago, all the presidents were lumped together into a day called Presidents’ Day. So now we don’t focus on these two, but all 44 men who’ve held the office. As many were not completely men of quality character, the day dilutes the name of the two we used to admire.

Without Washington, the leadership needed in the Revolution might not have been there and even if it did, it could have left us with a dictator. Freedom might still have been a dream.

Without Lincoln, we could have lost the United States and been left with scattered countries across North America. Forget freeing the slaves — there has to be a strong country first or the point is moot.

So, it’s just another day of business, school and life. Other anniversaries and holidays take place, but we seem to have lost two of the most important ones.

Bill Hallett