Two of the most exemplary presidents in U.S. history are annually memorialized together on Presidents’ Day. Besides being commonly regarded as amongst the greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would, in many respects, also qualify as “whole” men. Of course, nobody has ever represented the entire “package,” yet these noble, heroic presidents manifested a vast array of qualities characteristic of relatively whole men. I want to highlight Washington’s and Lincoln’s character, as widely lauded by historical scholars, biographers and generations of admirers, especially by the people they served. To reflect their humanness, I will also include a few commonly-noted shortcomings.
George Washington, celebrated for his dignified and virtuous nature, placed a premium on character, while downplaying the public policies that he advanced. He was deeply committed to his position as a public servant and dedicated to the common good. Although he was not well educated, especially bright or charismatic, Washington was seen as a wise man who regularly exercised sound judgment. Our first president also demonstrated marked compassion and generosity on his “soft side,” balanced by stereotypically-masculine traits such as considerable courage, discipline and perseverance.
Abraham Lincoln was perhaps best known and honored for championing fairness, respect, diversity and self-determination. He highly valued logic, truth, personal growth and learning. Our 16th president has often been eulogized for his tenacity in forwarding his convictions. Although hailed as a humble, unpretentious and congenial man who genuinely liked most people, “Honest Abe” proved quite guarded or reticent in most of his relationships. Even most of his close associates considered him an enigma. Lincoln was viewed as a very discerning man who was unusually perceptive of the character of others. He had a strong proclivity for storytelling and was generally regarded as an excellent raconteur.
We would do well to take a “page” from both of these highly-principled giants of American history and to apply many of their virtues in our daily lives.