Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Abraham Lincoln and George Washington

Walt Whitman (1819––1892).
(First published 1865; about Lincoln’s death)

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up - for you the flag is flung - for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths - for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head.
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

"George Washington Crossing the Delaware," by Emanuel Leutze, depicts a moment in the revolutionary war when Washington led the troops across the Delaware River to surprise the English troops in the Battle of Trenton, the day after Christmas, 1776.

When Washington led the troops to throw out the English and gain independence, the question remained whether Washington would in fact step aside and allow the citizens to choose a civil leader (president) or whether, in command of the military and at the peak of his power, Washington would instead declare himself King. You know, like George W. Bush did after he stole the election. Stole both elections, actually. When Washington stepped down, it was considered an astonishing step forward towards the ideals of freedom and democracy.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 - 1892) was one of a group of American poets, in the 1800s, commonly known as the fireside poets. Their poems rhymed and often had a certain cadance that made them easy for memorization by schoolchildren. He was also an abolitionist, opposing the practice of slavery. Below is a part of his poem about George Washington entitled "Washington's Vow."

"Washington's Vow."

The sword was sheathed: In April's sun
Lay green the fields by Freedom won;
And severed sections, weary of debates,

Joined hands at last and were United States.

O City sitting by the Sea!

How proud the day that dawned on thee,
When the new era, long desired, began,
And, in its need, the hour had found the man! ....

How felt the land in every part
The strong throb of a nation's heart,
As its great leader gave, with reverent awe,
His pledge to Union, Liberty, and Law!

That pledge the heavens above him heard,
That vow the sleep of centuries stirred;
In world-wide wonder listening peoples bent

Their gaze on Freedom's great experiment.

Could it succeed? Of honor sold
And hopes deceived all history told.
Above the wrecks that strewed the mournful past,
Was the long dream of ages true at last?

Thank God! The people's choice was just,
The one man equal to his trust,
Wise beyond lore, and without weakness good,
Calm in the strength of flawless rectitude!

His rule of justice, order, peace,
Made possible the world's release;
Taught prince and serf that power is but a trust,
And rule alone, which serves the ruled, is just.

That Freedom generous is, but strong

In hate of fraud and selfish wrong,
Pretence that turns her holy truth to lies,
And lawless license masking in her guise.

Land of his love! With one glad voice
Let thy great sisterhood rejoice;
A century's suns o'er thee have risen and set,
And, God be praised, we are one nation yet.

And still we trust the years to be
Shall prove his hope was destiny,
Leaving our flag, with all its added stars,
Unrent by faction and unstained by wars.

George Washington led the colonists to prevail in the war of independence against England, and, in 1789, became the first President of the United States. His policy promoted the goal that the U.S. should avoid becoming involved in foreign wars. His farewell address when he left office specifically warned against this nation ever becoming involved in foreign wars. Too bad nobody ever listens.

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