This toast was given at the D.C. Hillsdale’s annual Washington-Lincoln Toast in celebration of Washington’s birthday, which is the actual national holiday many erroneously call “Presidents Day.“
When we regard Washington and Lincoln, our minds return to treasured images of these two great fathers of the country. We might think of Washington bravely crossing the Delaware or humbly resigning his commission in Annapolis or presiding over the Constitutional Convention. Or perhaps we have in mind Lincoln towering over cautious little McClellan or sitting grandly in his mighty memorial, just a few Smithsonians away from here. But at the risk of somber reflection, I want to put before us two complimentary, yet truly sorrowful images in order to foster greater love and admiration for Washington and Lincoln, and to encourage our own deeds of service, despite the difficult state of our union.
Consider Lincoln, together with the first lady, in an upper room of the White House, in quiet vigil over their dying son, Willie Lincoln, on a chilling February night. The water from the spring under Franklin Square, just a few blocks from here, which filled Willie’s bath, was likely toxic from sewage and seepage. Due to the careless ignorance of all, the president’s 12-year-old son died that night in the midst of our Civil War.
And consider, for just a moment more, Washington, kneeling beside his adopted daughter, Patsy Custis, weeping quietly in prayer for her recovery. That same day, the Good Lord would take her at age 17. Washington, who helped to raise her from her earliest years, kept a personal log of each of her many seizures, which led up to her sorrowful death.
Think of that: To be a father of the country, even when careless countrymen or a provident and loving God take from these great men their most precious private good, namely their children, either by blood or by the perfection of loving adoption; to serve and in so doing lovingly to adopt the whole of America, despite such personal loss and suffering; to give to us the gift of political fatherhood even when the rewards of personal fatherhood have been taken away.
That is a perseverance, a greatness of soul, an image of these two great fathers that we can behold and treasure.
As then, so today. Our countrymen do not always yield up the best private goods for ourselves and our children; at times, through carelessness or even malice, they reach out to harm our private goods and wound the hearts and minds — even the bodies — of our children. But if we treasure the images put before us today, if we treasure Washington and Lincoln’s model of fatherhood — natural, adoptive, and expansive even unto the whole of the country — then we too can build up what others break, heal what others wound, and bring justice, order, and peace by means of a love far greater than our own private interest … just as our fathers did.
And so, today, it is in our interest, to raise a glass of remembrance:
To Washington and Lincoln: good fathers of a great country.