It’s President’s Day, the combined celebration of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). Back when I was in grade school, we didn’t get either day off; we spent them in school, learning about those men on their birthday. Even without a day off in their honor, I grew to love and honor them.
So today will be a quote day, just rereading some of their passed on wisdom. (I put in citations when I had them.)
"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People."—George Washington, after taking oath of office, April 30, 1789
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens."—George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”—George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."—George Washington, First State of the Union Address, January 8, 1790
“The habits of thinking in a free Country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective Constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the Powers of one department to encroach upon another.”—George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”—James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the President, 1789–1897, U.S. Congress, 1899, vol. 1, p. 220
"It is in our own experience that the most sincere neutrality is not a sufficient guard against the depredation of nations at war. To secure respect to a neutral flag requires a naval force, organized and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression. This may even prevent the necessity of going to war, by discouraging belligerent powers from committing such violations of the rights of the neutral party as may, first or last, leave no other option."—George Washington, Eighth Annual Address to Congress, December 7, 1796
|George Washington Praying at Valley Forge|
painting by Arnold Friberg
"I have often expressed my sentiments that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."—George Washington, Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May 10, 1789
"The Constitution recommended by the federal convention [of 1787]...approache[s] nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among men."—George Washington—to Sir Edward Newenham, George Washington Himself, by John C. Fitzpatrick
"We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age and in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest offices that are known in the United States."—George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led,
like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington
So many favorite quotes come from Washington’s Farewell Address, you might like to read it in full, here.
|Abraham Lincoln, 1863 daguerreotype|
(Responding to a question about which side God was on during the Civil War) “I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”—Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s Stories and Speeches, ed. J. B. McClure, Chicago: Rhodes and McClure Publishing Co., 1896, pp. 185–86.
“No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.”—Abraham Lincoln, Fragment on the Constitution and the Union, c. January 1861
“The people of these United States are the rightful masters of both Congresses and the Courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who would pervert the Constitution.”—Abraham Lincoln, speech at Cincinnati, Ohio, September 17, 1859, in The Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 5, Constitutional Edition, ed. Arthur Brooks Lapsley
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.—Abraham Lincoln is attributed with this quote, but it may be that his actual words were these: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”—Abraham Lincoln, speech “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”
“What is conservatism? Is it not preference for the old and tried, over thenew and untried?”—Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Russell Kirk, The Essence of Conservatism
"I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day."—Abraham Lincoln, according to journalist Noah Brooks
“This, and this only (will satisfy the South): cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right…. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing…. Let us be diverted by none of these sophistical contrivances….such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong….”—Abraham Lincoln, Speech at New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860
“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” Lincoln statement on March 26, 1864, to former Senator Archibald Dixon, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, and Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort, KY, Commonwealth, later put in writing per Hodges’ request. See more here.
In honor of the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, I wrote about that speech, and included it in full, here.
Part of being conservative is caretaking what we have. I hope we will, with care, preserve the words and ideas of these two great men.