Originally established in honor of George Washington's birthday, Presidents' Day should remind us of the price our forefathers paid to preserve our freedoms.
These are freedoms we have seen come under threat in the course of the past month, with President Joe Biden signing executive orders that may endanger our constitutional rights — the very document Washington helped draft.
A pioneer for the liberation of the United States of America, Washington understood the cost of independence. In his farewell presidential address, published in the ''Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser'' and in papers around the country in 1796, Washington divulged his fears for the safety of the Constitution and warned against the division of political parties.
Centuries later, Biden should heed the advice Washington penned as the new president leads a nation polarized by political parties.
Washington dignified patriotism. Washington knew first-hand the sacrifices of freedom. A national hero, Washington was the commander in chief over the Continental Army, which captured British troops in the Battle of Yorktown leading to the end of the Revolutionary War. Washington was credited for his leadership abilities as he motivated an army that faced excruciating circumstances — cold weather and starvation — while encamped at Valley Forge.
Although he tried to retreat to normal life following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Washington was asked to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, where he led the committee that drafted the Constitution. His remarkable leadership abilities left an impression on many, calling for him to become the first president.
As the leader of our nation, Washington understood what it meant to be a patriot. A few pages into his farewell address, Washington wrote, ''Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.''
Patriotism can unite a fragmented nation. Although our country might be divided by political affiliation, the desire to see our country succeed and to provide a better future for ourselves and our families can ultimately unite us. Biden's love for America will need to take precedence over his loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Washington recognized the value of diverse viewpoints. When Washington appointed members of his cabinet, he selected Thomas Jefferson as the secretary of state and Alexander Hamilton as the secretary of treasury. Jefferson (a Democrat) and Hamilton (a Federalist) didn't see eye to eye. However, Washington saw the value in the inclusion of differing opinions for the success of the nation.
In his address, Washington pointed to the significance of unity. ''With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.''
America prospered because individuals from different backgrounds were willing to come together to fight for a common goal. Our differences as a nation make us stronger, but we cannot play into the danger of allowing them to prevent us from moving forward. If Biden wants to succeed in unifying the nation, he has to continue to include a variety of voices from different parties.
Washington foresaw the dangers of political division. In his address, Washington wrestled with the looming divisiveness he saw in political parties, saying ''they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.''
If our commitment to a certain party supersedes our dedication to our country, it can be detrimental to the growth and freedom of our nation. America was founded by individuals who had differing opinions. However, those individuals saw their differences as strengths rather than deterrents. Have we become so blinded by our political affiliation that we have forgotten how to work together for the betterment of our nation?
Every year since 1896, the Senate has observed Washington's birthday by having one of its members read the Farewell Address in legislative session. Not only are his words poignant for our president, but also for our representatives who have the power to shape the future of our government. When the Senate looks to pass legislation that can hinder our constitutional rights and lead to more division in our country, we need to remind it of the significance of Washington's words. As Washington said, ''But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.''
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the author of "Framework Leadership.'' As president of Southeastern University, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership and is also a founding member of the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern's president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and in the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber Foundation. Read Kent Ingle's Reports — More Here.
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