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February 24, 2010 > Happy birthday to George and Abe too!

Happy birthday to George and Abe too!

By Suzanne Ortt

Drawings by Olivia Montalvo
Photographed by Doris Nikolaidis

The facts are these: George Washington's actual birthday is February 22; Abraham Lincoln was born February 12. Now both are celebrated on Presidents' Day, a federal holiday held on the third Monday of February. This year, February 15 was that holiday.

One commonality of the two presidents was neither had much formal education. Washington's schooling ended when he was around 15 years of age, due to the death of his father. He was taught the social graces, important in his culture and became a gentleman farmer. Lincoln was self-educated by reading books, loaned from others and taught himself the law. He split fence rails and clerked in a general store before practicing law.

After some military experience, Washington was enticed to be one of seven Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress in 1774. At 6 feet 3 inches, he was an impressive figure. Although he said little, he was thought to be a patriot. His next major step was serving as the commander-in-chief and leading the American Continental Army to victory over the British in 1783. His war strategy is still considered insightful and is emulated today by other revolutionary leaders. He also is renowned as our first president, serving two terms, 1789 to 1797, and is considered the father of our country.

Stories are common about our first president. One is that Washington was extremely honest. When his father asked who had cut down the cherry tree, young Washington replied, "I did. I cannot tell a lie." Today that is considered a myth. Washington's wealth was in his land; he often had little cash. Another tale is he had to borrow money to attend his first presidential inauguration. Another rumor concerns his false teeth. He did wear them, but they were not wooden. His dentures were probably quite uncomfortable. Cow's teeth, human teeth, and elephant ivory were set into a lead base. Springs were attached that allowed him to open and close his mouth. This appears to be factual information.

Lincoln served as the 16th president from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. He was the first elected Republican president. Lincoln led the country during the Civil War and freed the Confederate slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Notable side notes are that Lincoln was the first president born outside of the original thirteen colonies and the first president to sport a beard during his term.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in November 19, 1863 is still considered the most exceptional speech in American history. It lasted two to three minutes and was only ten sentences. Compare it with the keynote speech that day by Edward Everett, Secretary of State, President of Harvard University, and other government positions, which lasted two hours.

Famous honors of remembrance are the carving of Washington's head on Mount Rushmore and Lincoln's famous sculpture in the Lincoln Memorial. Both are well deserved. Then, take a look in your wallet for ordinary reminiscences of Washington and Lincoln. Washington is on the one-dollar bill and the quarter. Lincoln is on the five-dollar bill and the penny.

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