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Washington, Lincoln served as inspirations to generations

Did you ever stop and wonder at fate’s peculiar ways? For nearly all our famous men were born on holidays — Dick Stauzion

Feb. 16 is President’s Day, celebrating the birthdays of George Washington, born Feb. 22, 1732 (or Feb. 11, as some historians contend), and Abraham Lincoln, born Feb. 12, 1809.

Why the discrepancy about George’s birth date? Well, it seems that back in 1752 — the last year the Mets won the pennant — Britain and its colony (America) jumped ahead 11 days to get their calendar in sync with the rest of Europe. After that, George was never entirely certain about his birth date either, or even his birth year, since the Americans also shifted New Year’s Day from March 25 to Jan. 1. No wonder poor George lost all his teeth.

Great historical figures described him as “the perfect citizen (R.W. Emerson), “the purest figure in history” (W.E. Gladstone), “the best of great men” (Edward Everett), “the most virtuous” (Lafayette), “the mightiest name on earth” (Abraham Lincoln) and “I try to accrue his pictures on as many dollar bills as I can” (Alex Berger).

Although George was revered because of his accomplishments as a soldier, president and statesman, the tales of his escapades as a child also endeared him to his countrymen — er, countrypersons. One of the more popular ones was “The Cherry Tree.” It was written by Parson M.L. Weems in 1800, one year after Washington’s death.

This anecdote had been told to children through the years and is still vivid today. Although its veracity is challenged by many historians, there is no reason why this wonderful model of the truthful Georgie should not be held up for the admiration of children everywhere. So, readers, put on your reading glasses, gather your children around you and emote with passion as you tell them Weems’ immortal story in his own, olde English words:

“When George was 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, he found a beautiful young 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. Just then George, with his little hatchet, came into the room. ‘George,’ asked his father, ‘do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree?’ This was a hard question to answer, and for the moment, George was staggered by it, but quickly recovering himself he cried: ‘I cannot tell a lie, Pa, 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. Here are my arms, you dearest boy. Glad am I, George, that you killed my tree, for you have paid for it a thousand−fold by telling the truth.’ His father then proceeded to hug little George.”

Readers, that is a wonderful tale, but I must ask: What parent would give a 6−year−old boy a hatchet?

If George never told a lie, how did he get elected twice? And how come so many places claim he slept there? I guess it was easier to be truthful since there was no IRS to lie to.

Now a word about Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “A woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will never hurt me.” Abe, luckily you never ran into Rosie O’Donnell.

He was born in a log cabin and rose to be the 16th president. He fought a horrific Civil War, which cost more lives on both sides of the battle than any American war since, to free the country’s blacks from slavery.

When news arrived of the South’s imminent surrender, the military band began to play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in victory. Lincoln stopped them and requested they instead play “Dixie,” the theme of the South. Barack Obama, take note.

Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the 18th century father and the other the 19th century preserver of our nation, we honor those 20th and 21st century Americans who took up the struggle and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in freedom.

Contact Alex Berger at news@timesledger.com.

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