A vision of union
We no longer celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12. Like George Washington’s birthday, it’s been rolled into Presidents Day, the generic Monday holiday coming up on February 18.
Even after Presidents Day was established, West Virginia declared Lincoln’s Birthday a holiday for years, since the 35th state owes its existence to the 16th President. Created as it was at the height (or depth) of the Civil War in 1863, West Virginia would probably never have become a state without Lincoln’s approval.
This year, the “Rail Splitter” is getting more attention because of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie “Lincoln,” which centers on his last heroic months in office as slavery was abolished and the Civil War wound down.
In many minds, Lincoln was our greatest president because he held the United States together during its biggest internal threat. He made it clear that the USA was — and is — bound together, almost mystically, into a union that could not — and cannot — be dissolved simply because some people want to opt out to protect their own interests.
By doing so, Lincoln was following in the footsteps of that other “greatest” president, George Washington. It was, after all, Washington who led the revolutionary forces that freed America (not just individual colonies) from British rule and later set the tone for how a national president should operate.
As he left office, Washington warned fellow citizens against letting the new nation be divided by regional concerns and partisan politics. Before that, he had called out the militia to put down a tax rebellion by whiskey makers in the mountains, just as Lincoln’s Union Army put down the rebels of the Confederacy.
Let no one doubt that Lincoln, like Washington before him, saw America as more than a collection of states, regions and economic and social interests. This vision has sustained us until this day, but needs to be constantly reinforced.