Back when I was growing up, this in the 1950s and in my formative years, every child in first grade knew and memorized “red days.” For instance, in the month of February there were three and they were important because there was a chance you didn’t have to come to school. The most important was the 14th because way before “love” became Valentine’s Day allure, a first-grader knew it meant some candy may be in the wind.
The 22nd was George Washington’s birthday and, if I have to hear that story about the cherry tree again I’ll scream; all of us boys knew the only reason little Georgie admitted to whacking the cherry tree was because he still held the hatchet in his hand. The third day in red was the 12th – which was always my favorite outside of “The Big Three” – Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving – because everybody in my family (and the world) loved Mr. Lincoln.
My dad, evermore a genius scholar, could talk long and loud about “Honest Abe” and the reason for our reverence was that Mr. Lincoln always did the right thing, no matter how bitter the consequence. To this day he’s my favorite president and, as I got older and realized the atrocities of the Civil War, which was so evil it literally tore our country apart and pitted brother-against-brother, Abraham Lincoln just got bigger and bigger.
From early in elementary school when we were all in search of our heroes, he was my go-to-guy simply because my dad’s stories made him come alive. In Junior High, as I began to question myself about the real reasons for the wrongs that now flourished, he was a guiding light, and since then he’s walked beside me many a night for a reason you would never suspect.
Plain and simple: Abraham Lincoln picked himself up out of the dirt more times than the Biblical Job and, since, no human has survived as many of the darkest days.
He was cursed, laughed at, despised, scorned and finally assassinated – are you kidding me! – yet his greatest gift, of all he did for our nation that resonates louder with every new day that dawns in this life, there is this: He didn’t quit. At some point, from the time I started taking “real” history classes in high school until the first time I stood in the winning locker room of a Super Bowl, I have realized of all mankind’s virtue, nothing in my mind is quite as big as the ability, “Don’t Quit.”
No one, outside of the realm of Jesus Christ, has taught us more about “staying in the game” more than Abraham Lincoln. I dare say no one in history has soared to higher heights because he would not quit than Abraham Lincoln and no one, since 1776, has done more to shape the American Dream to what it is today as Abraham Lincoln – again because he refused to quit.
Today we celebrate what would be his 210th birthday. For many years historical scholars as well as the mainstream public have listed Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Washington – in order -- as the three highest-rated Presidents among historians. The remaining places within the Top 10 are often rounded out by Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Harry S. Truman, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson and John F. Kennedy.
In honor and loving memory of our nation’s 16th president, allow me to share this time line from his legendary journey to The White House:
* -- 1816 His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.
* -- 1818 His mother died.
* -- 1831 Failed in business.
* -- 1832 Ran for state legislature - lost.
* -- 1832 Also lost his job - wanted to go to law school but couldn't get in.
* -- 1833 Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt. To the penny.
* -- 1834 Ran for state legislature again - won.
* -- 1835 Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died, and his heart was broken.
* -- 1836 Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
* -- 1838 Sought to become speaker of the state legislature - defeated.
* -- 1840 Sought to become elector - defeated.
* -- 1843 Ran for Congress - lost.
* -- 1846 Ran for Congress again - this time he won - went to Washington and did a good job.
* -- 1848 Ran for re-election to Congress - lost.
* -- 1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state - rejected.
* -- 1854 Ran for Senate of the United States - lost.
* -- 1856 Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party's national convention - got less than 100 votes.
* -- 1858 Ran for U.S. Senate again - again he lost.
* -- 1860 Elected president of the United States.
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On April 15, 1865, President Lincoln died after he was assassinated the night before by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington. This was five days following Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and two days after Lincoln had delivered a speech suggesting blacks had a right to vote. Lincoln was insistent that there would be no retribution against the secessionists. After nine hours in a coma, Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. on April 15 … he was shot at 10:15 p.m. on April 14. Upon his death, his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, saluted at his bedside and famously said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
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“In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln, who died as this nation’s martyr hero at age 56.
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NOTE: Abraham Lincoln's birthday was never a U.S. Federal Government holiday but, in 1971, became part of President’s Day with the creation of the Uniform Federal Holidays Act, also called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which is always the Third Monday in February. George Washington’s birthday is Feb. 22, 1732 but the Third Monday of February was chosen to allow all Federal employees and others a consistent three-day holiday weekend.