Politics Aside: Remembering the Best

Politics Aside: Remembering the Best

I’m late to get to my friends room, and by the time I get there, everyone is already crowded around the TV. I grab a beer and find a spot on the floor to watch the second Presidential Debate. There are a few points where I am on the edge of my seat, wondering if I might actually see some punches thrown. But mostly I sit back and watch the two men vaguely present their master plans to rescue our economy and lower unemployment. Lies fly. These debates don’t inspire how we can build our country up, they fuel measures of tearing the other party down. America is divided across party lines, and the polarization inspires dirty fighting, filibusters, and a fair amount of shouting from my friends behind me on the couch. In a time where politicians hide behind political parties instead of standing for issues, I wonder as I stroll down the National Mall gazing at their magnificent monument and memorial, what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln might think.


My recent visits to Mount Vernon and Ford’s Theater seem appropriate in the midst of such a bitter, yet banal, Presidential race. Washington and Lincoln carried a vision of integrity, equality, progress, and stability for America. ‘In order to form a more a more perfect Union’, they held fast to the ideals that this country was founded on and placed the unity of the country above all.


George Washington, after his successful stint as Commanding General in the Revolutionary War, was initially offered the title of ‘King.’ Washington declined, encouraging the new nation to stick with the plan they had laid out -- democracy. George Washington believed in freedom and did more than his fair share of fighting for it. He presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution and later served as the nation's first elected president. At the conclusion of his presidency, he issued a famous “Farewell Address,” delivered as a public letter in 1796. Within, Washington gives advice on the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution, and the evils of political parties (ahem, I’m with ya George). After retiring in 1797, George Washington returned to his home, Mount Vernon and reclaimed his life as a farmer and husband.

 

Mount Vernon

George Washington's Mount Vernon -- about an hour south of D.C.

 

Surrounded by gardens, pasture and woodland, Washington’s estate overlooks the mighty Potomac River with beautiful and historically preserved views. The trip is more than worth it, and from the city, if you are relying on public transportation, will take you just over an hour. General admission to the historic landmark is $15 and the ticket gets you a walk through tour of his mansion, a self-guided tour of the grounds, and entrance to the newly renovated museum. The illustrious memory of the revered owner is present, and during our visit, so was the loud, inquiring, 5 year old and hollering toddler, bored to tears. We shared the day with a lot of tourists. Docents robotically recited facts as we passed through the fully furnished house and passed the bed on which Washington died of pneumonia.


After the house tour, we headed down the hill to the shore of the Potomac. Along the river was a small field filled with 18th century crops and a few small barns for sheep and cattle. In the biggest barn, I filled my nose and lungs with the familiar scent of dry hay. It was my first time feeling homesick since arriving in D.C. I needed to be coaxed by my friend to get on the bus after draping myself over a wooden fence, fixated on a bull as he grazed.

 

gardens

 

bull

Denise's new friend, the Mount Vernon bull.

 

Maybe Washington was such a good President because he was farmer. He worked with nature on a daily basis, not rich shareholders. He took pride in his commitments and followed through with his promises. And unlike the current Presidential candidates, George Washington ‘never told a lie.’

 

ford's theater

Infamous Ford's Theater, site of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

 

Ford’s Theater is located at 511 10th Street in Northwest D.C. It is a working theater, but it is more frequently recognized as the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. Lincoln is revered to this day by our country and by the world as the man who saved the Union and freed the slaves. It was Lincoln’s personal, moral obligation that prompted him to run for President after the Missouri Compromise was repealed and the Supreme Court ruled that African Americans were not citizens and had no rights. To protect the founding ideals of the country, that all men are created with certain inalienable rights, Lincoln entered the Presidential race and won. Before his inauguration, 7 Southern States seceded, and Lincoln launched into a war to protect the Union from destroying itself. Lincoln faced a country that was more polarized than our Senate is today, and he is still considered one of our best Presidents.


It was only 6 days after Robert E. Lee, Confederate Commanding General, surrendered that Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth. He sat with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and two friends watching a play in the Presidential box of the theater. Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head, mortally wounding the President. The President died the next morning in a house across the street and the nation lost the man they needed in the time that they needed him most.

 

inside the theater

Denise, thrilled to visit the assassination site!


The portrait of George Washington that hangs off the Presidential balcony box was there the night of the shooting. Other than that, a lot has changed. Smiling tourists gather in front of the booth to have their picture taken with Lincoln’s murder site, while little kids run up and down the staircase shouting over the noise in the room. A National Park Service ranger talks enthusiastically into a microphone about the night of the assassination. After taking my own, touristy photo, I’m ready to get out of there.


It’s on the National Mall that we are meant to remember these two, national heroes. But I admit that it is rare that I gaze upon the Washington Monument and consider Washington’s display of servant-leadership. And Lincoln’s steady, marble gaze across the Reflecting Pool typically serves as great photo-op in my mind rather than a testament to his vision of equality. These memorials exist for a reason, and it isn’t for the family Christmas card. It may be too often that I overlook the quality of leadership in our history but I am thankful for the opportunity to explore our nation’s leaders more in our country’s capital.

 


My two recent adventures have sparked discussions between my friends within the Washington Center, “which one is your favorite.” It’s really hard to say, but I guess I’m in luck -- I don’t have to choose. The only time where you really need to pick favorites is during an election year.

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