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As a boy, George Washington was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.”

Mark Twain


Anecdotal cherry tree aside, very little is actually known about Washington’s childhood. We do know, however, that when he was 16 years old he assisted in plotting land in the Shenandoah Valley. Excerpts from his diary of the trip, included the discomfort from sleeping under “one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice Fleas & c” and an encounter with an Indian war party bearing a scalp.

As an adult, he enjoyed riding, fox hunting, duck hunting and sturgeon fishing, dancing, billiards, cards, wrestling, and ran his own horses in races. Washington had two horses shot out from under him and his clothes cut by four bullets without being hurt.

Can you spot the historical errors in this famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River?

  • the flag is from the wrong time period
  • the boats are the wrong size and shape

Washington was voted unanimously to be the first President. As the first president of a new country, he defined the style of that position (including how to address a president), and the people adjusted to a government without a king. The first four members of thes cabinet: Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of Treasury), Henry Knox (Secretary of War) and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General).

In 1793, when war was declared between France and England, he believed that the United States should insist on its national identity, strength, and dignity; to keep the country “free from political connections with every other country, to see them independent of all, and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character that the powers of Europe may be convinced that we act for ourselves, and not for others.”

When the news of his death on December 14, 1799 reached Europe, the British channel fleet and Napoleon’s armies paid tribute to his memory.

By the way – the father our country fathered no children of his own.

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“I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”  Abraham Lincoln

In 1923, Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham’s son) donated his father’s papers to the Library of Congress.  This year, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth, the Library of Congress is sharing some of those papers and personal items of the President with the country via a traveling exhibition.

We, as a country, are fortunate, indeed, that we are able to understand a former president – centuries before our time – in very personal ways due to the preservation of his writings.  His personality and thought processes are revealed in intimate ways through letters with peers, friends and his wife.  We can more fully appreciate what inner battles he faced when dealing with unfathomable adversity and conflicts, and yet continued to follow his passion in pursuing freedom for all.

He was very articulate, possessed a great writing prowess, could be very direct, had a great sense of humor, and the persuasive gift of reason (for those who were willing to listen).

On the day of his assassination, President Lincoln told his wife that he wanted to visit the Holy Land, Europe and California.  It is only fitting that California was one of the few states chosen for the Lincoln Exhibit to be viewed.  (As I reside in California, I am a little biased.)  I can’t help wonder, though, if he had lived, what impacts his visit on the West Coast might have had on its residents.

If you could go back in time, what question would you like to ask President Lincoln?

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