Presidents’ Day – Much More than Just a Three-Day Weekend!
Karen and Jay share thoughts on the enormous contributions of Presidents Washington and Lincoln as we prepare to celebrate Presidents’ Day!
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are arguably the two greatest leaders in the history of the United States. Two great Presidents. Two great Americans. For many years, we would come together as a nation and celebrate each of their respective birthdays. Washington’s on February 22nd. Lincoln’s on February 12th. Then, in 1968, Congress enacted a law establishing Presidents’ Day – combining the two birthdays, extending the celebration to include ‘all Presidents,’ and requiring the holiday be observed on a Monday in February as part of a three-day weekend.
Inevitably, in the course of this transition, something important has been lost. That is the sheer magnitude of what each of these two great men accomplished on behalf of our country and their enormously positive impact. Washington’s leadership through the Revolutionary War and serving as President for the first eight years of our nation. Lincoln’s shepherding the country through its most traumatic and perilous time – our Civil War. So, as we celebrate this Presidents’ Day and enjoy our three-day weekend with family and friends, let’s each pause for a moment to reflect on the character, courage and sheer greatness of these two men and how their accomplishments have shaped this great nation and therefore our lives today.
Over the course of our nation’s 246-year history, there have been 46 Presidents of the United States, each one with their own influence and impact on the course of our history. Some have been good leaders, while others somewhat less so. Yet, there are only a handful whose legacy’s border on what could be considered almost mystical. These are individuals whose names are synonymous with the office of the presidency, who because of their uniquely strong and resilient leadership feature on our currency and our monuments. Names like Jefferson, Roosevelt, or Reagan might come to mind. Yet as we celebrate Presidents’ Day this coming Monday, there are two individuals who stand above the rest. They’re individuals who not only led us during our nation’s most trying times, but laid the foundations for our nations growth and evolution in ways that still impact us today. Those two are of course George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
But what sets these two men apart from the other 44 presidents, many of whom also led us through perilous moments just as they did? When we look at the history and legacy of these two men, it must be said that their leadership each came at a time during our fledgling history when we didn’t just face external threats, but internal and existential ones that threatened the continuation of this American experiment. In Washington’s case, it was declaring our freedom from the stranglehold of the British empire, guiding our nation through its earliest and most vulnerable period, and then relinquishing control of the presidency. In Lincoln’s, it was the emancipation of enslaved peoples and the preservation of the union. Each of these men demonstrated a moral character that came to not only set the standard for what is expected of a President to this day, but how we as Americans define ourselves. It’s their legacies we use to compare the quality of both a presidential candidate and a sitting president. And when we’ve forgotten or neglect their legacies, we tend to find ourselves with leaders unsuited for the office.
In the immediate moments following the death of President Lincoln on April 15th, 1865, his friend and the country’s Secretary of War at the time Edwin Stanton eloquently stated, “He now belongs to the ages.” It was befitting of a president who himself is often considered the most eloquent of our 46 presidents. It’s also a statement that encapsulates the legacies of both men whose tremendous vision, fortitude, and guidance has continued to transcend generations, are whose legacies offer lessons that are seemingly timeless. And though Presidents’ Day is now meant to celebrate the legacy of all of our president’s, it’s the standard set by Washington and Lincoln that all have tried to emulate.
Washington and Lincoln – Visits to the Granite State!
It’s remarkable to think that even since the early days of our republic, New Hampshire has occupied a special place in Presidential history – hosting Presidents and Presidential candidates. In this way, Presidents’ Day and New Hampshire are forever intertwined.
For instance, shortly after George Washington took office as the first President of the United States, he made a visit to Portsmouth. The President was on a grand tour as his plan was to visit every state in the new Union. Washington arrived in Portsmouth on October 31, 1789, and stayed in the Granite State for four days. He later said that he ‘loved his visit,’ and especially the 13-gun salute and a parade that welcomed him led by then Governor Landon and the Executive Council. Today, in Portsmouth’s Market Square, there is a beautiful plaque commemorating his visit and the speech he delivered from the balcony of the North Church right there in Market Square.
Then, more than seventy years later, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln made his first and only visit to New Hampshire. Not even a President at the time. On a dreary March day, there he was - a popular one-term congressman who came up to visit his son in Exeter. Lincoln had given a rousing speech earlier in New York, and the newly formed Republican party had asked him to give a speech in Manchester.
Lincoln’s visit to New Hampshire was just on the heels of his anti-slavery Cooper-Union speech in New York and despite the March New Hampshire weather and short notice over 1,000 people attended the speech.
It was there, at Smyth Hall in Manchester, that Lincoln was first introduced as ‘the next president of the United States.’ However, at the time, Lincoln had not yet announced that he was interested in running for the presidency. Interestingly, it was William H. Seward, later Lincoln's Secretary of State, who was considered the front runner at the time. While Lincoln's visit to New Hampshire might not have officially been the start of Lincoln's campaign for the presidency, it was one of the very first steps on his way to the White House.
As Granite Stater’s, we are proud to have welcomed these two very important visitors. And, as Americans, we feel blessed and express our gratitude for their selfless sacrifices and achievements.
NH’s Presidential Range - Another First in the Nation!
New Hampshire is special for so many reasons. Our history is second to none. Granite Stater’s have played key roles in the creation of our country and the selection of the leader of the free world while helping maintain our Independence. We honor these moments in time and cherish the long-lasting responsibility we have. So much is here in New Hampshire and another fitting tribute to our commanders and chiefs is the magnificent mountain range known as the Presidential Mountain Range. As someone who has hiked a few, I am overwhelmed by their beauty and splendor. I am also astonished by the many who have hiked all of them including NH Senate President and former Congressman Jeb Bradley as well as five-year old Scarlett known as “Littlefoot” who in fact might be the youngest person to do so. While recently flying across the country, I did a little research on how the mountains were selected and named and learned some interesting facts.
The presidential mountain range is composed of 13 mountains. Seven are named after presidents or maybe eight (more to come of that) and nine of the mountains are 4,000 feet or higher. The highest is Mt. Washington which stands majestic and tall above the rest at 6,288 feet. It was named of course after George Washington sometime between 1784 and 1792, around the same time many communities across the nation were paying tribute to this great man by naming landmarks after him. It wasn’t till the 1820’s that the rest of the original seven mountains were named. The order of their succession in office determined which mountain was next hence Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Madison, and Mt. Monroe. But wait, aren't there seven mountains named after presidents or is it more? This is where it gets interesting. The original seven peaks of the presidential mountain range included the first five presidents and then the names Franklin for Ben Franklin (not a president) and Mt. Pleasant (no reason why) were added. Later on, in the late 1960’s, Mt. Pleasant would be renamed for another general President, our 34th President Dwight Eisenhower.
The rest of the presidential summits were designated by name in the 20th century along with the name change for Mt. Eisenhower. In 1913, the then named Mount Clinton was renamed Mt. Pierce after our 14th President and the only Commander and Chief from New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce. The history is murky, but sometime in the 20th century, Mt. Qunicy Adams was designated in honor of our 6th President John Quincy Adams. In fact, it was one sub peak from Mt. Adams that was given to honor our only President who went out to serve in Congress post his term as Commander and Chief. Another interesting fact when it comes to the Adam’s legacy and its ties to the Presidential Mountain range is that of Abigail Adams - First Lady to John Adams as she is the only First Lady recognized with a mountain peak summit designation. President Adam’s cousin Samuel Adams is also honored with a name for a summit. The Adams’ have the most public recognition. I challenge someone to find out why.
Now here is where it gets interesting. Are there mountains named after Presidents that aren’t listed and do people mistake one of the names of a mountain for a President when it actually isn’t? Let me explain.
In 2003, NH passed a bill to change Mt. Clay to Mt. Reagan after our 40th President Ronald Reagan. However, the United States Board of Geographic Names opposed that change in 2010. While many leaders including Jeb Bradley, who was a member of Congress in 2003, supported the effort, no name change occurred, and Mt. Clay is still listed today and is named after Senator Henry Clay. Now let's move to Mt. Jackson. Some and most would think it would be named after our 7th President Andrew Jackson. It makes sense, right? But that's not the case as Mt. Jackson is in fact named after State Geologist Charles Thomas Jackson whose brother in-law was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Charles Jackson was a key leader in geology and helped shape mining policy.
It's safe to say that few people ascend to the Presidency, but many can rise to the occasion and scale the mountains of the Presidential Mountain Range - so please go enjoy a hike!
Positive Profile of the Week: Scott Spradling
This week we are delighted to highlight our great friend and leading media and communications professional, well known throughout New Hampshire - Scott Spradling.
Scott could be considered a modern Renaissance Man. Recently, I was able to catch up with him, but barely as he’s always a man on the move! As a former Emmy award-winning reporter, anchor, and political director for WMUR-TV, Scott has worked with many well-known people who are in the public eye. One of Scott’s claims to fame is being the first to interview President George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
Today, he works with clients to boost their profile through earned media, leading crisis communications efforts and strategic communications while also representing clients on major issues of concern at the State House and beyond. As one well-known business and political leader once said – “with Scott Spradling, you get the brains, the guts, the passion, the results!” Oh, and if that’s not enough, you might just find him some weekends over at the Rex Theater belting out songs with his amazing 11 piece – Scott Spradling Band.
I asked him, “What were you interested in growing up?” He surprised me by saying he never grew up thinking about broadcast journalism or being a TV news anchor and admitted that he really had no interest in politics. That all changed, however, when he came to NH and as he says, “I was thrown into the deep end of the pool in a place where politics is a professional sport where our Presidential Primary is the Super Bowl!” That experience introduced him to men and women who are the heart and soul of politics in NH. He met people like Governor Steve Merrill and learned what makes him tick, Congressman Bill Zeliff and then NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen, observing what made people rally around her brand of politics. It was interacting with all the people in different political positions along with many activists that motivated him. As Scott says, “It’s all about relationships”, which is what he likes and is so good at in his consulting business.
The same approach applies for those running for president who come to visit NH. We pride ourselves, and rightly so, as what we provide is the great common denominator exercise of providing a level playing field for every candidate. Granite Stater’s are not starstruck by our visitors from out of state; rather, there is a humility on our part and an expectation of the same from candidates – even the stars when they sit down on our couches or at a booth at the Red Arrow diner. We are the epitome of grassroots politics. Ask someone on the street what they think of Niki Haley, they might tell you they don’t know because, as the old Primary cliché goes, they’ve only met her two or three times! We’re not looking for polished speeches, but rather that candidates are willing to spend time with us, to meet us where we are at and talk about life and issues great and small. We are a small, engaged, open, purple state whose voters give everyone a chance, just ask Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter!
I asked Scott why is it so important to remember what past Presidents have done for this country and world? He said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. And there are so many amazing examples from both sides of the aisle of people who have made lasting and critically important contributions to our country, ensuring our democracy along with ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. George Washington helped turn us into a nation of ‘united states’ versus colonies under a British monarchy. He also created a blueprint example that it’s important for the most powerful person in the free world to have a term limit. Abraham Lincoln salvaged the Union in its darkest hour. Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt got us through wars, depressions and created the great safety net called Social Security. John F Kennedy and LBJ helped enact the Civil Rights Act. All Presidents have left some legacy that is of value. It’s important to remember and protect and not forget those key moments in the history of our country.”
We then discussed how to take back Presidents’ Day as for many it’s become merely a day off and a retail sales event. He said “it starts with us – we’ve got to get back to basics. Around this time of the year, we all need to make an effort to look back and spotlight these stories. We need to learn from them. Everyone can do this. While education in our schools is a great start, we need to utilize the connectivity of our communications to share these stories and lessons learned – even from our failures we can learn. We can all create a page on Presidents’ Day recognizing what we have learned, gained, lost and what we agree upon. Pick your favorite president and write about what they contributed to our history; celebrate this moment in time. This is not an exercise of idolizing our political leaders, it’s about legacy and lessons and no matter what – we need to respect the office and return to civility. We need to employ critical thinking skills and bring back a respectful dialogue so we can go back to a time where we could agree to disagree, but still have a meaningful conversation. Learn your history and keep it civil – pull out a George Washington one dollar bill and read the motto: E Pluribus Unum!”
Thank you, Scott, for your passion and love of this country and all the work that you do to help sustain this great country!
Quotes of the Week: Presidential Wisdom
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman
“The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.” – John F. Kennedy
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson