Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day And The Dissing Of Dead White Males


Today is President's Day.

And I don't mind telling you that I loathe this particular holiday, because of what it says about the direction of our culture.

Originally, we had two holidays to honor George Washington ( born February 22nd) and Abraham Lincoln ( born February 12),although Lincoln's birthday was never a federal holiday and was not celebrated in all states.

Back in the late 1970's, that morphed into 'Presidents Day' a catchall for whatever and whomever the individual states and localities felt like honoring.

What that does, essentially, is to put all of our presidents on the same level and to minimize their accomplishments.

Why honor George Washington anyway? All he did was to lead a long and difficult battle for our independence that risked every worldly thing he possessed, including his neck. And then, after helping to establishing our Republic when he could have been crowned king, he served two terms and presided over the foundation of the liberty and free institutions we enjoy today - and then voluntarily left power to establish democratic succession as a precedent for future posterity.

And Lincoln? Why does he deserve a special day? All he did was to successfully
preserve the Union at great cost and die at an assassin's hands because of it.

As for some of the other notable presidents who have performed with particular distinction - James Monroe, Franklin Roosevelt, John Adams, and Ronald Reagan, for example - they barely rate a mention.

Why does this bother me? Because I understand that when a society cheapens its heroes and great men, it cheapens and lessens itself.

Men like Washington and Lincoln serve a purpose to future generations beyond what actual service to the country they performed. They provide an example to future generations who may be faced with similar challenges and choices.

When I was younger, Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's birthday were celebrated separately, and more importantly, the stories were retold so that young Americans could learn from their patriotic and heroic examples.

Nowadays, with rare exceptions, it seems like they're just a couple of dead white males remembered chiefly because they're seen on our money.And that's sadly appropriate, since 'Presidents' Day' has chiefly become a day to hit the stores.

Separate days to honor these two presidents doesn't seem so out of line, especially when you consider that Martin Luther King Jr., Christopher Columbus and Cesar Chavez among others have their own special days all to themselves.

I have no problem with that, but if men like the ones named above rate their own special day, the very least men like Washington and Lincoln deserve is their own special days to honor them, based on their relative accomplishments and what they did for their fellow Americans.

So that's why I dislike Presidents Day....it's a sign of our culture's gradual distancing itself away from heroism and patriotism.

15 comments:

Debbie said...

You are correct about "our culture's gradual distancing itself away from heroism and patriotism." Look at the years from September 11, 2001 through today. So many heroes, very little recognition. But Washington certainly deserves more recognition than he gets. Obama has made this year's presidents day all about Lincoln.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

christian soldier said...

Great post!!
I got caught up in the political messes of the day and ignored the great men who are honored today...so..just posted a photo of the fabulous sculpture-statue- of George Washington at West Point...
C-Cs

Christianatheist said...

So true! And what passes today for observance of "Presidents' Day" (It hurts mt teeth just to say it!)
Today in my local paper " The % worst Presidents" W, in case you didn't see it was "only" #2. What truly astonishing , JIMMUH ISN"T ON THE LIST! WTF! Maybe you could address this at some point FF?
Just a thought. ;)

Freedom Fighter said...

Actually, I did awhile back.

These guys are clowns,not historians...

Ymarsakar said...

they are clowns with Nukes, though.

Ymarsakar said...

Hold, I think the better metaphor would be "eggshells with hammers".

The bigger the egghead, the bigger the egg shell and the more fragile.

Ymarsakar said...

Hold, I think the better metaphor would be "eggshells with hammers".

The bigger the egghead, the bigger the egg shell and the more fragile.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your editorial. ( I was concerned last Thursday when you did not broach the subject of Lincoln's Bicentenary. ) I agree with your position re the silly renaming. It should simply be called Washington & Lincoln's Day. Thank you for mentioning John Adams, consistently the most overlooked Founding Father -- he was the sole Founding Father ( those attendees at the Declaration Of Independence & the Constitutional Convention ) who was NOT a slave-owner !

I remember the Union Army Decoration Day. ( There was an equivalent Confederate Memorial Day in the South. ) I note that there was the name Armistice Day too. The controversy swirling round Columbus Day could be quelled by a simple renaming : Pre-Columbian Indian Heritage Day.

Ymarsakar said...

I have so far met two people, on the internet, that thought Lincoln was a tyrant and started a war to prevent the South from legitimately leaving the Union.

They are sympathetic to the South in terms of bias, although I can't say whether they live there or not. But the general beliefs are the same and the general inability to defend their views are also the same.

You ever notice a similar situation like that, Rob?

Freedom Fighter said...

Here's the story on Lincoln - he was a minority president who was caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Republican Party was dominated by abolitionists, and only won because there were 3 other parties running who essentially nulified each other.

As such, his entire support came from the likes of people like Senator Thad Stevens who insisted on military action NOW to free the slaves.

Because of this, Lincoln had little choice but to call out the army after Fort Sumter was fired on and South Carolina seceded.

Once Lincoln issued a call for troops, the other Southern states quickly followed suit and left the Union.

To say he started the war is therefore somewhat accurate if you consider that the widespread war was started by Licoln's gathering troops to invade the South. Which is exactly how many Southerners see it. They have a point.

It's important to realize that the slaves were, among their other attributes, lawfully acquired property to their owners, and property that had appreciated in value since the US outlawed the importation of slaves in 1809.

The price of a field hand in 1861 was between $12K and $15K in today's dollars, and skilled slaves ( a valet, a blacksmith, a field overseer or a carpenter, for instance)could go for much more.

To the Southerners of that time, it represented a federal taking of private property without any compensation whatsoever, and in th ecase of Southern small holders with 5 or 10 slaves, a major loss.

Imagine if the Feds declared Toyotas illegal and were going to confiscate all Toyota's vehicles without compensating the owners for them...

I've always felt that Buchanan or even Lincoln could have probably avoided the Civil War had they simply exercised a kind of eminent domain and offered to compensate the property owners and phase out slavery in say 3 years time to allow the slaves to become self-sufficient and the owners to arrange to have their crops picked either by freed blacks for wages or by the sharecropping system that eventualy developed anyway.

Instead, well...

Regards,
Rob

Anonymous said...

Most of the Confederate state declarations of independence & Constitutions, perhaps all of them, contained clauses which explicitly endorsed racism & slavery. (I've read several of them.) Furthermore, they explicitly stated that they chose independence (sc, secession,) as their preferred path for the defence of slavery. The whole point of independence was slavery. It was all or nothing for them : compensation was a moot point. Lincoln had always offered compensation to all those committing slavery in all states willing to abolish slavery ; a non-state, The District Of Columbia, took him up on his offer. It should be noted that President Lincoln & Secretary Of State Seward met Confederate Vice-President Stephens & a Confederate Senator & an assistant Confederate War Department secretary at the Hampton Roads Conference on 3 Feb 1865 in an effort to more speedily conclude a war whose ultimate outcome was a foregone conclusion. Lincoln explicitly repeated the offer of compensated abolition. But the subject of abolition was outside of the prescribed powers of the Confederate commissioners. The Confederacy had high hopes of attracting support from the European powers, but every civilised state in Europe was revolted by the brutality & evil of slavery. An alternative-universe Confederacy which had abolished slavery would have received favourable treatment from Europe -- but the whole point of independence was to retain slavery.

7 (seven) states had seceded before Lincoln took office, &, as you mention, Ft Sumter was fired on by Confederate forces in the 1st military act. Lincoln can not be held responsible for there being a civil war. The choice which he had was whether or not to save the Union. In the end, that necessarily entailed the abolition of slavery, the true casus belli.

Many Southerners left the South before & during the war because they were revolted morally by Secession or Slavery or both. Texas Governor Sam Houston was deposed by the secessionist Texas legislature for refusing to take a pro-Confederate gubernatorial oath. West Virginia split from Virginia to become a new state. Eastern Tennessee was occupied by a Confederate Army for the entire war owing to their opposition to secession. In fact, the most reliably Republican federal House districts in the US historically are the 1st & 2nd Tennessee ridings : they have elected Republicans only since 1858 ! (It must have amused them no end when most of the rest of the South began turning Republican in the 1970s.) The Appalachians were completely hostile to the Confederacy, & that was why Jefferson Davis did not flee into the interior's hills, to answer, en passant, a very common question.

Finally, I realise that you were not endeavouring to cause offence (I'm too familiar with your site & your opinions to think that), but the effort to use Toyotas as a metaphor for Blacks is, shall we say, taking us perilously close to being beyond the pale.

I think that I was supposed to sign these letters per prior accord.

signed, dragon (Though I don't think that was it, was it ? Being old is such fun! d something, though ... di something ... that's it : dinosaur !) signed, dinosaur

Freedom Fighter said...

Dear Dinosaur,
Thanks for dropping by.

I'm afraid I disagree with several of the points you make here.

You're quite correct that several Confederate declarations of seccession mention slavery ex-plicitly. but again, slavery was regarded as a property rights and states rights issue.

Lincoln, BTW, did not offer compensation to the southern states until after the war had started, several battles had been fought and the federal army had already tried to invade the south By then it was too late.

Th esame thing is true of th eHampton Roads conference you mention, by which time th eissue was basically moot anyway.

Lincoln was elected as a minority president on an abolitionist policy. For him to try to settle the slavery issue as I suggested was a political impossibility for him, thus my description of him as a man between a rock and a hard place. To the South, his election, along with the Radical Republicans, was a signal.

It should also be noted that the 1863 Emancipaton Proclamation only affected slaves in terriotory controlled by the Confederacy an dthat slaves in border states that were nominally Union ( Kentucky, for example) were not affected. In New Orleans, which the Union invaded prior to the Proclamation, slavery remained in force and the blacks there had the unhappy fate of being the last Confederate slaves to be freed!

You're correct that many Southerners left the South when war broke out, but whether that ws because of their disdain for slavery or because of their dislike of the idea of secession per se and their choosing to remain with the Union is up for question.

Since they continued to live in the South while slavery endured and only left when war broke out, I think we can assume it was mostly the latter.

I likewise think my equating slaves with another form of personal property was quite accurate, because that was how it was perceived at the time.

Obviously a human life is of more intrinsic worth than a car, but to the peopl ethat owned slaves, they were a capital investment.

I still maintain that the war coul dhave been averted and th eslaves much better off had the Federal government offered compensation fo rthis property and offered a three year phase out to enable the freed slaves to become more self sufficient.

In Lincoln's defense, by the time he became president things were almost beyond the point of no return.

Regards,
Rob

Regards,
Rob

Ymarsakar said...

I still maintain that the war coul dhave been averted and th eslaves much better off had the Federal government offered compensation fo rthis property and offered a three year phase out to enable the freed slaves to become more self sufficient.

The Fed tried to do the same thing with Amerindian tribes. It didn't work. Why? Cause central government almost didn't exist in the lonelands until after the unification post Civil War.

Everybody local was doing their thing and not giving a damn what agreements the feds had with the native tribes or what money was "supposed" to go to them or what goods they were offered in fair trade.

The same would have worked with slavery. Local enforcement would have been non-existent.

Ymarsakar said...

To say he started the war is therefore somewhat accurate if you consider that the widespread war was started by Licoln's gathering troops to invade the South. Which is exactly how many Southerners see it. They have a point.

The cultural idea at the time was that the North wouldn't last long in a war. They, the South, were hoping for a Short Victorious war. That strategic miscalculation is not something Lincoln can be held accountable for.

Ymarsakar said...

I've always felt that Buchanan or even Lincoln could have probably avoided the Civil War had they simply exercised a kind of eminent domain and offered to compensate the property owners and phase out slavery in say 3 years time to allow the slaves to become self-sufficient and the owners to arrange to have their crops picked either by freed blacks for wages or by the sharecropping system that eventualy developed anyway.

A lot of the Republican legislation under Johnson was nullified or ignored. There's no way the feds can enforce such a program you describe, given how the Democrat party refused to change anything concerning their wealth and status.

If Lincoln was a minority President, he would have been out of office in 4 years. After that, the system would have reversed itself, assuming it could even be enforced to begin with.

However, the South made a strategic calculation not to wait, for they saw a better deal in war. Making a gamble on war and losing has its share of consequences.

Given that the Dems were the most familiar with slavery and their local sentiments, they were supposed to hold the position of Loyal Opposition and provide Lincoln with a compromise solution that settled issues. The Democrats, however, chose war. Because it was an easy decision to make when others, anti-slavery believers like Robert E. Lee, did the fighting for them