Weaving Truth into the inspiring legacy of our Founding Fathers

Connie Swinney reflects on Presidents Day by offering a broader perspective on the contribution of the founding fathers of the United States.

 

 

By Connie Swinney
I noticed U.S. flags lining the main roadway as I drove to work Monday morning.

When I realized the reason was Presidents Day, the images conjured memories of my childhood.

I recalled learning about President Abraham Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12, 1809 and President George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22, 1732 – both during my childhood designated as public holidays with regulated observance guidelines in the Uniform Holiday Act of 1971.

As students, we proudly memorized and recited the Gettysburg address, including the famous phrase, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Learning about Lincoln typically evolved into lessons about other great men in U.S. history – one of which influenced a famous excerpt in Lincoln's speech – “All men are created equal.”

That phrase initially appeared in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence of which Thomas Jefferson was the principle author.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The core value has remained intact, even while the nation evolved in a hundred years to include women, people of color and the poor under this principle.

Lincoln, the 16th president, became the first public figure to introduce opportunities for liberty for a broader population into policy. The outcome resulted in a shift in the nation's trajectory, while still maintaining the ideals of the founding fathers.

Lincoln, most noted for his tenure during the Civil War, issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared all slaves free in non-Union states.

The fallout would eventually lead to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth following the Civil War in 1865.

A broader understanding of Lincoln's legacy involves those he revered, which brings me back to Jefferson.

When Lincoln was born, Jefferson was serving his last month in the White House as the third president.

In essence, Lincoln came of age as the last “Founding Father” served.

During Jefferson's tenure as president from 1801 to 1809, he drafted the law for religious freedom.

Jefferson – a farmer and lawyer as well as a politician – signed an act in 1807 which prohibited the importation of slaves, which signaled a shift in the public conscience about the slave trade.

A noted contradiction of this president involved his ownership of slaves, coupled with his relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, in which he fathered two children. Upon his death on July 4, 1826, they were freed.

My educators also taught us about Washington, whose presidency was also intertwined with Jefferson's legacy.

Jefferson served as the first secretary of state under Washington. We learned that Washington was the “Father of our Country.”

He was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783.

As a military leader, he led the colonists to victory against British forces in the 1770s. Later, Washington became the only president to be elected unanimously by the electoral college.

During his service as the first U.S. president, he created the format for the federal judiciary, initially with six Supreme Court justices and five associate justices.

He established the cabinet system and the inaugural address.

In the wake of the Revolutionary War, Washington, Alexander Hamilton and another future president James Madison drafted the Articles of Confederation to unify and calm a fledgling country wrought with disputes over land, war funds, trade and taxation.

Washington, along with his fellow patriots, influenced and guided the creation of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 – a binding document which would not instruct the government on what to do for citizens but gave the government parameters in dealing with states and citizens.

Washington wrote in a letter a year prior to the adoption of the Constitution that he wished for “some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees.” A little more than 50 years later, Lincoln obliged.

Due to courageous steps of our early leaders, the United States has made great strides in evolving into an even greater nation.

In the tumult of modern day politics, what better reminder of what forged the country than to take time to recall and revere its origin and those who embraced the system they created.

I have rejected the cynicism of those who have become hyper-critical of our leadership. Instead, I choose to reinforce the core values forged with liberty and inspired by the great men of our past.

An analysis of our national politics indicates that something has changed along the way.

Instead of extolling the virtues of our past, we are hearing from detractors who purport to try to reinvent a better system and basis for our nation.

Throughout history, we were provided a road map to protect our way of life. Our leaders taught us the fight to preserve our founding values never ends.

Jefferson wrote as a stark reminder for the future, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

Perhaps the best lesson on Presidents Day is to understand that past presidents took great care in forging a nation to clear the way for each of us to take care of ourselves.

Connie Swinney is a staff writer for The Highlander and Burnet Bulletin. She covers Marble Falls city and community news, the law enforcement and public safety beats and the 33rd/424th Judicial District Courts. Send her a note at connie@highlandernews.com.

 

 

 

 

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