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Guest Column: Thoughts on President’s Day 2018

Guest column submitted by Michael Bullington–
Did you know that nine Civil War era veterans are buried locally in Sylvan Cemetery?

Michael Bullington
Michael Bullington

Residents of Citrus Heights may recognize the uniformed reenactors of Civil and Revolutionary War history that attend every Memorial and Veterans’ Day commemoration at Sylvan Cemetery. Of special note, the West Virginia Civil War reenactors’ unit regularly come equipped with period rifles to deliver a black powder salute to honor those that “gave their lives that the nation might live.”

If you haven’t been to these special ceremonies at Sylvan Cemetery, be sure to circle the dates on your calendar. You’re likely to find yourself inspired, as has the author, to faithfully attend them.

One of the presidents, whose birthday in the month of February we celebrate on President’s Day, is Abraham Lincoln. He directed the Union effort to defeat the rebellion during the Civil War, and ultimately sacrificed his own life as part of the cost of victory. He is sometimes considered the greatest of American presidents.

Alongside him stands the momentous figure of George Washington, whose birthday is also in February, and who overcame eight years of war with the English to pave the way for our nation’s independence. What made Washington unique among American presidents was that he was the de facto political leader of the country, in addition to being the military commander of our armed forces.

As the English waited for the conclusion of treaty efforts in Paris, King George III speculated that Washington would soon capitalize on his military success by declaring himself the king of the newly liberated nation. When told by his American portrait painter Benjamin West that the General had intended to simply retire to his home in Mount Vernon, King George was remarked that if that were true, George Washington would have to have been the greatest man ever born. What greater tribute could there be than from the lips of one’s most ardent opponent?

Exhausted from service in both the French and Indian War and our own war for independence, Washington reluctantly acquiesced to serve once again in the newly created role of president for two terms beginning in 1787. Popular sentiment urged him to accept a third term, which he refused, deferring to his vice president, John Adams in 1795.

Once again, he yearned for a return to his business at Mount Vernon. But as four years of a tumultuous Adams presidency were coming to a close, there was again a cry for him to run against Thomas Jefferson in 1799 for the presidency. In that same year, however, Washington succumbed to pneumonia after exposure to a winter rainstorm while touring his property on horseback.

Successful generals who later won election as president for two terms included Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Grant was hailed by Frederick Douglass as the person who did the most for the black man – a supreme compliment to Grant’s compassion and ability as the Chief Executive.

Notwithstanding, as alluded to earlier, Washington is the only American to perform the roles of our country’s political and military leader simultaneously. In the writer’s estimation, he stands alone atop the pantheon of our nation’s greatest leaders.

And what of the greatest politician in our nation’s history to not have attained the office of President? One could argue that distinction belongs to Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s former senior aide, a battlefield hero, the first secretary of the Treasury, the creator of our financial system, the originator of our Coast Guard and tax system, later a major general, creator of the US Mint and the Bank of New York.

It is worth noting that Washington, Hamilton and Grant have been the subjects of biographies by author Ron Chernow. It is Chernow’s novel that inspired the Broadway play, “Hamilton.”

This Presidents’ Day, let’s be sure to reflect on the dedication and sacrifice of the men whose leadership made us the leader of the free world. Let us pay homage to each of them in their own way. Finally, let us recall and always strive to live out the immortal words of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

God bless America!

Michael Bullington is a history buff and 34-year resident of Citrus Heights.

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