With all due respect to presidents Washington and Lincoln, perhaps this Uniform Monday Holiday should be a day to remember all our chief executives—the great, the not-so-great, and the middling? After all, who needs a holiday to remember George and Abe? Perhaps, we should commemorate Handsome Frank or Old Rough and Ready—those guys could use some love. In all seriousness, with the exception of our first five and last five presidents (and a few notable and notorious ones in between) Americans have a hard time recalling the men who sat in the Oval Office.
We've documented more than a few presidential administrations in our programs. Painting a complete portrait of these men (regrettably, only men) and the circumstances in which they governed requires a good deal of research. The first layer yields only the textbook stuff. But as we dig deeper, the more complex, interesting picture emerges. We begin to see the personal histories and characteristics that drove them to the highest office. To be sure, each story is distinct. However, we've been struck by one thing they have in common—virtually without exception. Regardless of political persuasion, background, ethnicity or creed, they have strived to do what they thought was best for the country. Some have failed miserably, some have achieved lasting greatness, most have done only so-so, but all have demonstrated an unshakeable commitment to the survival of the new national union on these shores.
Lincoln understood the gravity of the office perhaps better than anyone. The concluding remarks to his 1862 message to Congress seem every bit as relevant today:
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We [...] will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
So today, let's raise a glass to Abe and George....and Thomas and John and Andrew and Martin, Teddy, Harry, Dwight, Ronald, and all the others, too.