Presidents Day is the celebration of the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
George Washington's birthday is February 22, 1732 - 1799
Abraham Lincoln's birthday is February 12,1809 - 1865.
Washington was the first president of the United States of America.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States.
The Cherry Tree
When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was extremely fond. He went about chopping everything that came his way.
One day, as he wandered about the garden amusing himself by hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he found a beautiful, young English cherry tree, of which his father was most proud. He tried the edge of his hatchet on the trunk of the tree and barked it so that it died.
Some time after this, his father discovered what had happened to his favorite tree. He came into the house in great anger, and demanded to know who the mischievous person was who had cut away the bark. Nobody could tell him anything about it.
Just then George, with his little hatchet, came into the room.
"George," said his father, "do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? I would not have taken five guineas for it!"
This was a hard question to answer, and for a moment George was staggered by it, but quickly recovering himself he cried:—
"I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet."
The anger died out of his father's face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said:—
"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! yes, though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!"
The Apple Orchard
One fine morning in the autumn Mr. Washington, taking little George by the hand, walked with him to the apple orchard, promising that he would show him a fine sight.
On arriving at the orchard they saw a fine sight, indeed! The green grass under the trees was strewn with red-cheeked apples, and yet the trees were bending under the weight of fruit that hung thick among the leaves.
"Now, George," said his father, "look, my son, see all this rich harvest of fruit! Do you remember when your good cousin brought you a fine, large apple last spring, how you refused to divide it with your brothers? And yet I told you then that, if you would be generous, God would give you plenty of apples this autumn."
Poor George could not answer, but hanging down his head looked quite confused, while with his little, naked, bare feet he scratched in the soft ground.
"Now, look up, my son," continued his father, "and see how the blessed God has richly provided us with these trees loaded with the finest fruit. See how abundant is the harvest. Some of the trees are bending beneath their burdens, while the ground is covered with mellow apples, more than you could eat, my son, in all your lifetime."
George looked in silence on the orchard, he marked the busy, humming bees, and heard the gay notes of the birds fluttering from tree to tree. His eyes filled with tears and he answered softly:—
"Truly, father, I never will be selfish any more."
The Garden Bed
One day Mr. Washington went into the garden and dug a little bed of earth and prepared it for seed. He then took a stick and traced on the bed George's name in full. After this he strewed the tracing thickly with seeds, and smoothed all over nicely with his roller.
This garden-bed he purposely prepared close to a gooseberry-walk. The bushes were hung with the ripe fruit, and he knew that George would visit them every morning.
Not many days had passed away when one morning George came running into the house, breathless with excitement, and his eyes shining with happiness.
"Come here! father, come here!" he cried.
"What's the matter, my son?" asked his father.
"O come, father," answered George, "and I'll show you such a sight as you have never seen in all your lifetime."
Mr. Washington gave the boy his hand, which he seized with great eagerness. He led his father straight to the garden-bed, whereon in large letters, in lines of soft green, was written:—GEORGE WASHINGTON
Young George and the Colt
There is a story told of George Washington's boyhood,—unfortunately there are not many stories,—which is to the point. His father had taken a great deal of pride in his blooded horses, and his mother afterward took pains to keep the stock pure. She had several young horses that had not yet been broken, and one of them in particular, a sorrel, was extremely spirited. No one had been able to do anything with it, and it was pronounced thoroughly vicious as people are apt to pronounce horses which they have not learned to master.
George was determined to ride this colt, and told his companions that if they would help him catch it, he would ride and tame it.
Early in the morning they set out for the pasture, where the boys managed to surround the sorrel, and then to put a bit into its mouth. Washington sprang upon its back, the boys dropped the bridle, and away flew the angry animal.
Its rider at once began to command. The horse resisted, backing about the field, rearing and plunging. The boys became thoroughly alarmed, but Washington kept his seat, never once losing his self-control or his mastery of the colt.
The struggle was a sharp one; when suddenly, as if determined to rid itself of its rider, the creature leaped into the air with a tremendous bound. It was its last. The violence burst a blood-vessel, and the noble horse fell dead.
Before the boys could sufficiently recover to consider how they should extricate themselves from the scrape, they were called to breakfast; and the mistress of the house, knowing that they had been in the fields, began to ask after her stock.
"Pray, young gentlemen," said she, "have you seen my blooded colts in your rambles? I hope they are well taken care of. My favorite, I am told, is as large as his sire."
The boys looked at one another, and no one liked to speak. Of course the mother repeated her question.
"The sorrel is dead, madam," said her son, "I killed him."
And then he told the whole story. They say that his mother flushed with anger, as her son often used to, and then, like him, controlled herself, and presently said, quietly:—
"It is well; but while I regret the loss of my favorite, I rejoice in my son who always speaks the truth."
Washington the Athlete
Many stories are told of the mighty power of Washington's right arm. It is said that he once threw a stone from the bed of the stream to the top of the Natural Bridge, in Virginia.
Again, we are told that once upon a time he rounded a piece of slate to the size of a silver dollar, and threw it across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, the slate falling at least thirty feet on the other side. Many strong men have since tried the same feat, but have never cleared the water.
Peale, who was called the soldier-artist, was once visiting Washington at Mount Vernon. One day, he tells us, some athletic young men were pitching the iron bar in the presence of their host. Suddenly, without taking off his coat, Washington grasped the bar and hurled it, with little effort, much farther than any of them had done.
"We were, indeed, amazed," said one of the young men, "as we stood round, all stripped to the buff, and having thought ourselves very clever fellows, while the Colonel, on retiring, pleasantly said:—
"'When you beat my pitch, young gentlemen, I'll try again.'"
At another time, Washington witnessed a wrestling-match. The champion of the day challenged him, in sport, to wrestle. Washington did not stop to take off his coat, but grasped the "strong man of Virginia." It was all over in a moment, for, said the wrestler, "In Washington's lionlike grasp I became powerless, and was hurled to the ground with a force that seemed to jar the very marrow in my bones."
In the days of the Revolution, some of the riflemen and the backwoodsmen were men of gigantic strength, but it was generally believed by good judges that their commander-in-chief was the strongest man in the army.
Washington as soon as Fort Duquesne had fallen hurried home, resigned his commission, and was married. The sunshine and glitter of the wedding day must have appeared to Washington deeply appropriate, for he certainly seemed to have all that heart of man could desire. Just twenty-seven, in the first flush of young manhood, keen of sense and yet wise in experience, life must have looked very fair and smiling. He had left the army with a well-earned fame, and had come home to take the wife of his choice, and enjoy the good will and respect of all men.
While away on his last campaign he had been elected a member of the House of Burgesses, and when he took his seat, on removing to Williamsburg, three months after his marriage, Mr. Robinson, the Speaker, thanked him publicly in eloquent words for his services to the country.
Washington rose to reply, but he was so utterly unable to talk about himself that he stood before the House stammering and blushing until the Speaker said:—
"Sit down, Mr. Washington, your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess."
Washington at Yorktown
During the assault Washington stood in an embrasure of the grand battery, watching the advance of the men. He was always given to exposing himself recklessly when there was fighting to be done, but not when he was only an observer.
This night, however, he was much exposed to the enemy's fire. One of his aides, anxious and disturbed for his safety, told him that the place was perilous.
"If you think so," was the quiet answer, "you are at liberty to step back."
The moment was too exciting, too fraught with meaning, to think of peril. The old fighting spirit of Braddock's field was unchained for the last time. He would have liked to head the American assault, sword in hand, and as he could not do that, he stood as near his troops as he could, utterly regardless of the bullets whistling in the air about him. Who can wonder at his intense excitement at that moment?
Others saw a brilliant storming of two out-works, but to Washington the whole Revolution and all the labor and thought and conflict of six years were culminating in the smoke and din on those redoubts, while out of the dust and heat of the sharp, quick fight success was coming.
He had waited long, and worked hard, and his whole soul went out as he watched the troops cross the abatis and scale the works. He could have no thought of danger then, and when all was over, he turned to Knox and said:—
"The work is done, and well done. Bring me my horse."
Abe Rescues the Birds
Once, while riding through the country with some other lawyers, Lincoln was missed from the party, and was seen loitering near a thicket of wild plum trees where the men had stopped a short time before to water their horses.
"Where is Lincoln?" asked one of the lawyers.
"When I saw him last," answered another, "he had caught two young birds that the wind had blown out of their nest, and was hunting for the nest to put them back again."
As Lincoln joined them, the lawyers rallied him on his tender-heartedness, and he said:—
"I could not have slept unless I had restored those little birds to their mother."
Lincoln and the Little Girl
In the old days, when Lincoln was one of the leading lawyers of the State, he noticed a little girl of ten who stood beside a trunk in front of her home crying bitterly. He stopped to learn what was wrong, and was told that she was about to miss a long-promised visit to Decatur because the wagon had not come for her.
"You needn't let that trouble you," was his cheering reply. "Just come along with me and we shall make it all right."
Lifting the trunk upon his shoulder, and taking the little girl by the hand, he went through the streets of Springfield, a half-mile to the railway station, put her and her trunk on the train, and sent her away with a happiness in her heart that is still there.
Training for the Presidency
"I meant to take good care of your book, Mr. Crawford," said the boy, "but I've damaged it a good deal without intending to, and now I want to make it right with you. What shall I do to make it good?"
"Why, what happened to it, Abe?" asked the rich farmer, as he took the copy of Weems's "Life of Washington" which he had lent young Lincoln, and looked at the stained leaves and warped binding. "It looks as if it had been out through all last night's storm. How came you to forget, and leave it out to soak?"
"It was this way, Mr. Crawford," replied Abe. "I sat up late to read it, and when I went to bed, I put it away carefully in my bookcase, as I call it, a little opening between two logs in the wall of our cabin. I dreamed about General Washington all night. When I woke up I took it out to read a page or two before I did the chores, and you can't imagine how I felt when I found it in this shape. It seems that the mud-daubing had got out of the weather side of that crack, and the rain must have dripped on it three or four hours before I took it out. I'm sorry, Mr. Crawford, and want to fix it up with you, if you can tell me how, for I have not got money to pay for it."
"Well," said Mr. Crawford, "come and shuck corn three days, and the book 's yours."
Had Mr. Crawford told young Abraham Lincoln that he had fallen heir to a fortune the boy could hardly have felt more elated. Shuck corn only three days, and earn the book that told all about his greatest hero!
"I don't intend to shuck corn, split rails, and the like always," he told Mrs. Crawford, after he had read the volume. "I'm going to fit myself for a profession."
"Why, what do you want to be, now?" asked Mrs. Crawford in surprise.
"Oh, I'll be President!" said Abe with a smile.
"You'd make a pretty President with all your tricks and jokes, now, wouldn't you?" said the farmer's wife.
"Oh, I'll study and get ready," replied the boy, "and then maybe the chance will come."
Why Lincoln was called Honest Abe
In managing the country store, as in everything that he undertook for others, Lincoln did his very best. He was honest, civil, ready to do anything that should encourage customers to come to the place, full of pleasantries, patient, and alert.
On one occasion, finding late at night, when he counted over his cash, that he had taken a few cents from a customer more than was due, he closed the store, and walked a long distance to make good the deficiency.
At another time, discovering on the scales in the morning a weight with which he had weighed out a package of tea for a woman the night before, he saw that he had given her too little for her money. He weighed out what was due, and carried it to her, much to the surprise of the woman, who had not known that she was short in the amount of her purchase.
Innumerable incidents of this sort are related of Lincoln, and we should not have space to tell of the alertness with which he sprang to protect defenseless women from insult, or feeble children from tyranny; for in the rude community in which he lived, the rights of the defenseless were not always respected as they should have been. There were bullies then, as now.
At Stranger at Five Points
One afternoon in February, 1860, when the Sunday School of the Five-Point House of Industry in New York was assembled, the teacher saw a most remarkable man enter the room and take his place among the others. This stranger was tall, his frame was gaunt and sinewy, his head powerful, with determined features overcast by a gentle melancholy.
He listened with fixed attention to the exercises. His face expressed such genuine interest that the teacher, approaching him, suggested that he might have something to say to the children.
The stranger accepted the invitation with evident pleasure. Coming forward, he began to speak and at once fascinated every child in the room. His language was beautiful yet simple, his tones were musical, and he spoke with deep feeling.
The faces of the boys and girls drooped sadly as he uttered warnings, and then brightened with joy as he spoke cheerful words of promise. Once or twice he tried to close his remarks, but the children shouted: "Go on! Oh! do go on!" and he was forced to continue.
At last he finished his talk and was leaving the room quietly when the teacher begged to know his name.
"Abra'm Lincoln, of Illinois," was the modest response.
A Solomon Come to Judgment
Lincoln's practical sense and his understanding of human nature enabled him to save the life of the son of his old Clary's Grove friend, Jack Armstrong, who was on trial for murder. Lincoln, learning of it, went to the old mother who had been kind to him in the days of his boyhood poverty, and promised her that he would get her boy free.
The witnesses were sure that Armstrong was guilty, and one of them declared that he had seen the fatal blow struck. It was late at night, he said, and the light of the full moon had made it possible for him to see the crime committed. Lincoln, on cross-examination, asked him only questions enough to make the jury see that it was the full moon that made it possible for the witness to see what occurred; got him to say two or three times that he was sure of it, and seemed to give up any further effort to save the boy.
But when the evidence was finished, and Lincoln's time came to make his argument, he called for an almanac, which the clerk of the court had ready for him, and handed it to the jury. They saw at once that on the night of the murder there was no moon at all. They were satisfied that the witness had told what was not true. Lincoln's case was won.
George Pickett's Friend
George Pickett, who had known Lincoln in Illinois, years before, joined the Southern army, and by his conspicuous bravery and ability had become one of the great generals of the Confederacy. Toward the close of the war, when a large part of Virginia had fallen into the possession of the Union army, the President called at General Pickett's Virginia home.
The general's wife, with her baby on her arm, met him at the door. She herself has told the story for us.
"'Is this George Pickett's home?' he asked.
"With all the courage and dignity I could muster, I replied: 'Yes, and I am his wife, and this is his baby.'
"'I am Abraham Lincoln.'
"'The President!' I gasped. I had never seen him, but I knew the intense love and reverence with which my soldier always spoke of him.
"The stranger shook his head and replied: 'No; Abraham Lincoln, George's old friend.'
"The baby pushed away from me and reached out his hands to Mr. Lincoln, who took him in his arms. As he did so an expression of rapt, almost divine tenderness and love lighted up the sad face. It was a look that I have never seen on any other face. The baby opened his mouth wide and insisted upon giving his father's friend a dewy kiss.
"As Mr. Lincoln gave the little one back to me he said: 'Tell your father, the rascal, that I forgive him for the sake of your bright eyes.'"
Lincoln the Lawyer
He delighted to advocate the cases of those whom he knew to be wronged, but he would not defend the cause of the guilty. If he discovered in the course of a trial that he was on the wrong side, he lost all interest, and ceased to make any exertion.
Once, while engaged in a prosecution, he discovered that his client's cause was not a good one, and he refused to make the plea. His associate, who was less scrupulous, made the plea and obtained a decision in their favor. The fee was nine hundred dollars, half of which was tendered to Mr. Lincoln, but he refused to accept a single cent of it.
His honesty was strongly illustrated by the way he kept his accounts with his law-partner. When he had taken a fee in the latter's absence, he put one half of it into his own pocket, and laid the other half carefully away, labeling it "Billy," the name by which he familiarly addressed his partner. When asked why he did not make a record of the amount and, for the time being, use the whole, Mr. Lincoln answered: "Because I promised my mother never to use money belonging to another person."
The Courage of His Convictions
Mr. Lincoln made the great speech of his famous senatorial campaign at Springfield, Illinois. The convention before which he spoke consisted of a thousand delegates together with the crowd that had gathered with them.
His speech was carefully prepared. Every sentence was guarded and emphatic. It has since become famous as "The Divided House" speech. Before entering the hall where it was to be delivered, he stepped into the office of his law-partner, Mr. Herndon, and, locking the door, so that their interview might be private, took his manuscript from his pocket, and read one of the opening sentences: "I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free."
Mr. Herndon remarked that the sentiment was true, but suggested that it might not be GOOD POLICY to utter it at that time.
Mr. Lincoln replied with great firmness: "No matter about the POLICY. It is TRUE, and the nation is entitled to it. The proposition has been true for six thousand years, and I will deliver it as it is written."
Mr Lincoln and The Bible
A visitor in Washington once had an appointment to see Mr. Lincoln at five o'clock in the morning. The gentleman made a hasty toilet and presented himself at a quarter of five in the waiting-room of the President. He asked the usher if he could see Mr. Lincoln.
"No," he replied.
"But I have an engagement to meet him this morning," answered the visitor.
"At what hour?" asked the usher.
"At five o'clock."
"Well, sir, he will see you at five."
The visitor waited patiently, walking to and fro for a few minutes, when he heard a voice as if in grave conversation.
"Who is talking in the next room?" he asked.
"It is the President, sir," said the usher, who then explained that it was Mr. Lincoln's custom to spend every morning from four to five reading the Scriptures, and praying.
Springfield Fairewell Address
It was on the morning of February 11, 1861, that the President-elect, together with his family and a small party of friends, bade adieu to the city of Springfield, which, alas! he was never to see again.
A large throng of Springfield citizens assembled at the railway station to see the departure, and before the train left Mr. Lincoln addressed them in the following words:—
"MY FRIENDS: No one, not in my position, can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except by the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support; and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you an affectionate farewell."
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