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Washington's Birthday

Yesterday, on President’s Day, we celebrated the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The observance often recalls the apocryphal cherry tree story of youngster Washington proclaiming “I cannot tell a lie.”

The reputation of our first president, cherry tree or not, remains honorable and honest. Washington has been characterized as “first in war, first in peace and first in the heart of his countrymen,” with a reputation for telling the truth – a virtue overwhelmingly admired in people.

Theodore Roosevelt called George Washington and Abraham Lincoln the United States’ greatest citizens, and TR saw truth-telling as a stellar measure of a person.

“If (one) does not tell the truth, then nothing can be done with him in any way or shape. You can pardon most anything in a man who will tell the truth because you know where that man is; you know what he means. If anyone lies, if he has the habit of untruthfulness, you cannot deal with him because there is nothing to depend on. You cannot tell what can be done with him or by his aid. Truth telling is a virtue upon which we should not only insist in the schools and at home, but in business and in politics just as much. Criticism should be both truthful and constructive…Let us insist that the truth be told. The truth only harms weaklings. The American people wish the truth, and can stand the truth! The man who debauches our public life…is a greater foe to our well-being as a nation than is even the defaulting cashier of a bank, or the betrayer of a private trust. No amount of intelligence and no amount of energy will save a nation which is not honest, and no government can ever be a permanent success if administered in accordance with base ideals. If you habitually suffer public representatives to be dishonest you will gradually lose all power of insisting upon honesty. Honesty we must have. No brilliancy, no, “smartness”, can take its place.* The foundation stone of national life is and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen!”

(*Campaign speech NYC 1898)

Dakota Datebook written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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