Washington and Lincoln are two of the greatest presidents in US History. One is the founding father, the savior of the country, who led America from being a colony to an independent country. And the other is the man who elevated the US to a new level of accomplishment, eliminated slavery, and united America under one new dream. But what is the origin of their success?
“In God we trust”
In fact, the achievements of these two presidents exceed even that which historians are aware of. Looking deeper into their personalities and personal statements, it is clear that their intentions were not solely rooted in the mission of bringing glory to the United States.
President George Washington
People understandably praise Washington for his impeccable ethics and extraordinary talents. However, he himself did not seek praise or acclaim for his achievements. He believed that all of his accomplishments came from God’s blessings and that the glory belonged solely to His glory.
In his inaugural speech, he said, “His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.” Highlighting the importance he put on the involvement of the divine. Furthermore, when taking the oath of office, President Washington was the first President to place his hand upon the Bible to show his respect for God.
He was also the creator of the now universally celebrated Thanksgiving Day in the country. During its conception he is quoted to have said, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
For the entirety of his period of influence, it is clear that his faith played an undeniable role in the decisions he made. Even at the end of his presidency, upon completing his term, in his Farewell Address, he wrote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
His intentions were solely rooted in the mission of bringing glory to God within the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln
Unlike Washington, President Lincoln was born into a penurious family, receiving only 18 months of unofficial education. It was with his own diligence that he taught himself how to walk the path of greatness.
He truly exemplified the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius’ saying, ‘When Heaven intends to confer a great responsibility upon a person, it first visits his mind and will with suffering, which toils his sinews and bones, subjects his body to hunger, exposes him to poverty and confounds his projects.’ This saying outlines the idea that when the divine decides to assign an important mission to any person, He will first arrange a context for that person to train their will so that they will have the tools needed for their later destiny. Only after an individual has suffered from hunger, hardships, and frequent misfortunes can they be trained rigorously enough for their talents to truly flourish.
This was a central belief in Lincoln’s philosophy. His impoverished background and strenuous childhood enabled him to feel deep empathy for the extreme sufferings of the poor and the enslaved. It was the fire that pushed him to pursue freedom for all of the enslaved and vehemently protest any and all regimes of human exploitation. He regarded slavery as the most severe evil to reside in the country as it conflicts with the concept ‘that all men are created equal’, a pillar of the United States Declaration of Independence. Ultimately what secured Lincoln’s place as the godfather of the modern continental US was that he accomplished his dream; eradicating slavery, ending the civil war, and saving the US from the most dangerous situation imaginable. This achievement was, as he believed, only possible because of the trials that he endured early in life.
A newly freed man once presented President Lincoln with a Bible. In receiving the book he said, “In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it, we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it. To you, I return my most sincere thanks for the very elegant copy of the great Book of God which you present.”
Lincoln ethics are today regarded to be heroically admirable and alongside those ethics was always his faith in God. In closing his second inaugural address, he said, “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 nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The personalities beneath the icons
For Washington and Lincoln alike, it was their faith in God that made them great men. They both set timeless examples for future generations. Still today, people still tell stories of their upright and honorable behavior.
Washington is famous for his compassion; he was capable of treating people with kindness and riding himself of selfishness and jealousy.
In 1765, when he was stationed in the city of Alexandria, Washington, he encountered a problem with a man named William Payne. This man was the opposition to a Congressional candidate that Washington had nominated. Washington and Payne got into a verbal argument, which escalated into the two men assaulting each other. After losing his temper, Payne moved forward and punched Washington in the face, knocking him to the ground. Washington’s troops rushed from the barracks, getting ready to punish Payne. However, Washington quickly pacified them, telling them to get back to their position. The next morning, Washington sent a letter to Payne asking for him to meet him at a nearby hotel.
Payne was worried about his well-being. However, contrary to his concern, when he arrived he found Washington waiting there for him with two glasses of wine and a sincere attitude. He said to Mr. Payne, “to err is human. I was wrong yesterday, but if you have had sufficient satisfaction, let us now be friends”.
Deeply moved by Washington’s compassion, Payne agreed to leave behind his irritation, and later on, became the most loyal supporter to the President. Washington had employed his kindness and tolerance to eliminate hatred, move people’s heart and attract talents.
Lincoln is also remembered for his extraordinary forbearance. Born into a poor family and having no impressive political background, he encountered a lot of criticism from the upper classes who occupied the government, who looked down on him even after he became President.
For example, when he was delivering his inaugural address, a congressman stood up and interrupted him.
“Mr. Lincoln, you should not forget that your father used to make shoes for my family.”
Everyone laughed out loud, however, Lincoln remained composed and replied calmly.
“Sir, I know that my father used to make shoes in your house for your family, and there will be many others here… because the way he made shoes, nobody else can. He was a creator. His shoes were not just shoes, he poured his whole soul into them. I want to ask you, have you any complaint? Because I know how to make shoes myself; if you have any complaint I can make another pair of shoes for you. But as far as I know, nobody has ever complained about my father’s shoes. He was a genius, a creator, and I am proud of my father!”
Lincoln’s forbearance was exceptional. Upon hearing this, the senators stopped laughing and fell silent. Their silence demonstrated their newly found respect. Lincoln had treated their criticism and insults with resilience, remarkable patience, and the exceptional calmness of a wise man.
The unwavering faith of these two great US presidents is not random. It is in fact what gave them their ability to unite the people, their strength as leaders and their foresight to envisage a brighter future for their country. Many American also have strong faith in the divine and in God. The country has faith so strong that it is even proclaimed in black and white on our money… “ In God We Trust”.
For America, God is the ultimate force that controls its fate, not the military, economic forces or scientific advancements. Having such a spiritual origin has enabled the country to maintain a diverse spiritual foundation, empowering the US to become a country of ultimate democracy and civilization, that everyone across the globe would relish the opportunity to experience for themselves.