The president of the United States is considered by many the most powerful elected official in the world, responsible for decisions that affect both current and future generations. With a view to history, guide students to understand that presidents have led the country through times of prosperity, crisis, and dramatic change. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of our greatest presidents, led fascinating lives and set forth policies that helped shape our modern nation.
Americans admired George Washington so much that he was still living when his birthday became a national holiday. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, is also remembered and honored to this day. In 1971 Congress agreed that these famous history makers' birthdays would be celebrated as one holiday: Presidents' Day, which always falls on the third Monday in February. And with National Patriotism Week celebrated the third week of the month, February is, of course, an ideal time to ignite students' appreciation for our country's greatest leaders and achievements, and rich history.
George Washington's remarkable contributions include his service from 1775 to 1783 as commander of the Continental Army. As a result of his outstanding leadership, the Colonies emerged victorious over the British in the American Revolutionary War. Four years later Washington was elected president of the convention responsible for creating the United States Constitution. At the peak of his career, he served as the first president of the United States, from 1789 to 1797. Two years after leaving office, Washington died at his home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia.
Abraham Lincoln led Americans during perhaps the greatest crisis in our history, the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. Besides keeping the country together as one nation, Lincoln fought to end the cruel enslavement of African-Americans. His speeches and letters are full of wisdom and democratic ideals. In a message to Congress in 1861, for example, he stressed nonviolent solutions to disputes, saying, "Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets." After the war, Lincoln was assassinated while watching a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.
MATH/CALENDAR SKILLS PATRIOTIC COUNTDOWN
February features three presidential dates your class will want to remember: Abraham Lincoln's Birthday, on February 12; Presidents' Day, February 21; and George Washington's birthday, February 22. Beginning February 1, practice patterning skills with younger students by counting down to these dates. Help the class make a chain from strips of red, white, and blue paper. Glue the strips into circles, hooking each one inside the next to make a chain with 29 links. Have children label the 12th one for Lincoln, the 21st for Presidents' Day, and the 22nd for Washington. Each morning, cut a link from the chain and celebrate when the "big days" arrive!
Washington and Lincoln were men of strong character. Read students the statements below and have them identify the positive character traits that each president exemplifies.
The acceptance speech George Washington gave when elected commander in chief of the armies included this statement: "I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."
A book that young Abe Lincoln had borrowed got wet, so he husked corn for three days to pay the owner back.
While working as a store clerk, Lincoln charged a woman six cents too much. He walked three miles to repay her.
TEACHING WITH THE POSTER
PICTURE A PRESIDENT
Most children are familiar with Washington's and Lincoln's famous profiles on coins, but can they describe these men's physical appearance in detail? Before showing your students the poster, pages 41-42, that features these past presidents, read the descriptions at right and encourage children to picture each man. Next, invite each student to choose one of these presidents and paint what he or she thinks he looked like. Share the poster along with its factual information and ask youngsters to choose one of the men to study in depth.
As an extension to this activity, have each student write a description of someone famous. Collect all the descriptions and read them aloud one at a time, omitting the name of the person being described. Can classmates identify the person from the physical details?
OF GEORGE WASHINGTON "Measuring six feet two inches in his stockings and weighing 175 pounds ... large straight nose ... blue-gray eyes ... he has a clear, rather colorless pale skin ..., dark brown hair. His mouth is large and generally closed, but from time to time he discloses some defective teeth."
Written by George Mercer, a close friend, in 1760
OF ABRAHAM LINCOL "Six feet four inches tall, weighing about 180 pounds, slightly stooped, with a seamed and rugged countenance and unruly hair, he wore a shabby old top hat, an ill-fitting frock coat and pantaloons and unblackened boots. He had a certain natural dignity that discouraged familiarity and commanded respect."
From Encyclopedia Americana
TEACHING WITH THE REPRODUCIBLE PRESIDENTIAL COINS
Ask each student to bring in a penny and a quarter from home. Give every child a copy of the reproducible on page 40 and a magnifying lens. Have students respond to the questions.
Next, have separate groups transform dirty pennies into pretty pennies. Direct each group to mix 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt in a clear plastic jar and stir until the salt dissolves. Then have them dump some dirty pennies into the jar, seal the lid, and watch the transformation!
CURRENT EVENTS/CREATIVE WRITING IF I WERE PRESIDENT
Washington and Lincoln had huge tasks to accomplish when they became presidents of the United States. What are some problems that the U.S. and the world face today? Have children clip articles from newspapers to bone up on current events. Then ask them how they Would resolve a particular problem and have them complete this sentence:
If I were president
If I were president I would make people work to get along so the world would be more peaceful.
Rhyleigh, age 6
Lived 1732-1799 Was President 1789-1797
Family Wife Martha: stepchildren Jon and Martha Custis
Birthplace Westmoreland County, Virginia Early Occupation Surveyor
Know As Father of Our Country
Claim to Fame First President of the United States
Interesting Fact Washington rarely smiled because he had poorly fitting false teeth made from ivory and metal.
"Liberty, when it takes root, is a plant of rapid growth."
Lived 1809-1865 Was President 1861-1865
Family Wife Mary Todd: children Robert, Edward, William, and Thomas(Tad) Birthplace Hardin County, Kentucky Early Occupation Storekeeper and lawyer Known As Honest Abe
Claim to Fame Kept the nation together during the Civil War
Interesting Fact Lincoln grew a beard shortly after being elected president because a young girl named Grace Bedell suggested he would look more handsome.
Notable Quotation "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."