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Praise the Presidents but Oppose their Messages

By Harold Pease, Ph. D

Presidents’ Day, combining birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for a national holiday, was designed to honor the contributions of both but, though we heap praise upon each, we ignore their messages. Washington’s primary message for posterity can be found in his famous Farewell Address just prior to his leaving office.
In strong terms he asked that we avoid debt. He said: “As a very important source of strength and security cherish public credit… use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasion of expense… [Use the] time of peace, to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.” Today our national debt sits at over $18 trillion—the highest in our history—eight trillion of which coming under President Barack Obama alone. We are spending our way into slavery for our children and/or financial collapse (See USDebtClock.org).

Washington pleaded with the nation to keep religion and morality strong. He said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” The founding Fathers never supported the notion of separation of religion and government—only the separation of an organization of religion from government. What would Washington say of the immorality that prevails today?

But the warning about foreign aid was especially good. He basically told us gift giving in foreign affairs is a good way to be universally hated. He said it placed us “in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more.” Today there is hardly a nation in the world that does not have its hand out and when, after once giving, the amount is reduce or terminated we are hated all the more for it.

Washington worried about posterity not holding their elected officials strictly to the limits imposed by the Constitution. He knew many would seek to undermine that document by twisting it to give power they could not acquire without the distortion. Sound familiar? He said: “But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” Today much of what the federal government does is not even mentioned in the Constitution.

But freedom fighters are not likely to be popular, he said: “Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” One need not look far for the tools and dupes; they seem to be everywhere in high office and in both parties.

Lincoln was for the free market and decidedly against socialism—just opposite of President Obama. On the ownership of property Abraham Lincoln’s feelings were especially strong, he said, “Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprises” (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, pp. 259-260). To him there was no need to take by force the wealth of those who produce and give it to those less productive. The “share the wealth” philosophy and “envy politics” so articulated by Obama would have been foreign ideology to the Civil War president.

Lincoln’s answer to the poor, from which he sprang himself, “Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him labor diligently to build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence….” Unfortunately, many in our society have forgotten the “labor diligently” part of his phrase and have come to expect the government to provide, from the industry of others, their every need. On that score Lincoln also had words. “You toil and work and earn bread, and I will eat it.” He viewed this principle as a form of tyranny to those who work. Today 47.5 % of the adult population pays no federal income tax; many actually receive benefits for which they have paid nothing.

Watching others acquire wealth was, in fact, a sign of a healthy economy for Lincoln. “I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.” Nor would he have supported the hundreds of laws that we have today that disincentivise a man trying to acquire wealth.

Perhaps teachers and parents would be wise to remind those under their charge of the wisdom of the ages as expressed by these two favorite presidents. There is a reason that we have the day off and that these birthdays were made a holiday. But with all the fun that follows we must not forget their messages.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution.