Washington and Lincoln are lessons in humility
BY ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2013
2/18/13 at 6:50 AM
Join the discussion. Tell our bloggers what you think about their blogs and your answer may appear in the newspaper.
Not all heroes are famous
It's a grand idea to let kids make the call
The books of our youth can last for a lifetime
I'm not sure if my kids are historically aware enough to have a favorite president yet, but I'm making a big plug for Abraham Lincoln. My father-in-law, World War II and Korean War veteran Bob Marks, would likely rank George Washington above Lincoln by a little bit. I can't argue that point. They're both great men and have much to teach us about leadership and how we handle failure.
Abraham Lincoln's birthday was last Tuesday and Washington's is Friday. Forty-four heads of state have come in U.S. history and by most accounts those two men still rank one and two in the hearts of their nation.
Why? Well, children and faithful readers, let me tell you a few stories. One is about a rich man who took a major gamble with his life and fortune by agreeing to lead his upstart, mostly rural country's ragtag army against the greatest power in the world, Great Britain.
He suffered failure after failure but won when he had to, at Trenton and Yorktown. Washington's army had a lot of help from the French, let us never forget that, but his track record is like going 8-8 on the season and then winning the Super Bowl. And, of course, you'd be executed if you lost the Super Bowl.
Washington would retire to private life but we called him back to service again. We tried a confederation form of government, but that didn't work entirely, so once again we asked for his leadership, electing Washington as our first president. The United States was only a generation removed from bowing to royalty and he could have forced that old comfort to his own benefit.
Instead, Washington set an invaluable tradition when he voluntarily stepped down after two terms. What humility, what foresight it must have taken to say no to ultimate power.
Abraham Lincoln is another lesson in humility. Consider our current time when politicians of both stripes preen and pout and view compromise, even to the greater good, as unacceptable. Lincoln was insulted and was underestimated early on for his humble roots and downcast demeanor, then vilified later for the costs of the Civil War, the lack of military success early on, and even his efforts toward eventually abolishing slavery.
Only his martyrdom changed popular opinion about the merits of the pioneer lawyer from Illinois.
When I was a kid and first saw a video about Lincoln and Washington in the third grade, I was utterly captivated. I went home, marshaled my Army men and turned it into a bedroom-floor play about great men doing great things for our country.
I have never lost that fascination for the best our country has to offer. I hope I'm at least trying to teach my children that greatness is not relative, that failure can be overcome and courage trumps power. Lincoln and Washington are matchless examples of such shining qualities if we take the time to study them again.
Rod Walton 918-581-8457
A bust of Abraham Lincoln is shown at the Robert Todd Lincoln mansion, Hildene, in Manchester, Vt., in November. The Georgian Revival home was built in 1905 by Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of the president’s four children to survive to adulthood. TOBY TALBOT / Associated Press