There is a controversy as to who really chopped down the cherry tree. Was it young George Washington or young Abraham Lincoln? Some say it was Lincoln, and some argue it was Washington.
Some even say, “There wasn’t a cherry tree.” As for me, I think there was a tree and they both could have chopped it down and said to their fathers, “I cannot tell a lie ....” I can see why people might get the story confused.
The two men in question were fashioned from the same fabric. They were true-blue Americans whose integrity was more important than life itself.
You can tell a lot about people by the things they say and a lot more by the things they do. Words are easy to speak, but deeds prove the words to be true or false. Once Washington said, “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles: the character of an honest man.”**(See note below)
Once George Washington was riding near Washington City with a group of friends and they came to a place where they had to leap over a wall. In the process one horse knocked off a number of the stones from the wall. Washington said, “We better replace them.” His friends told him, “Oh, let the farmer do it.” But Washington didn’t feel right about that. When the riding party was over, he went back the way they came. He found the wall and dismounted. Then he carefully replaced each of the stones. His riding companion saw what he did and said, “You’re too big to do that.” His only response was, “On the contrary, I am the right size.”
Washington was concerned about his reputation. He did not want people to assume he participated in unworthy deeds because he kept company with people who did. Reputation was important, but he was more concerned about the integrity of his heart.
Once he said, “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”** He avoided the very appearance of evil.
He said, “In politics as in philosophy, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant and happy.” (From www.goodreads.com)
Once upon a time a rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success.
The corporal was standing by just watching as the men struggled.
The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping.
The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.“
The rider said nothing in response. Instead he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers and as they tried to lift the wood, he helped them.
With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out.
Who was this kind rider?
The rider was George Washington, the commander-in-chief.
He quietly mounted his horse and went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”
Washington could have said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”**
This statement came from Abraham Lincoln, Washington’s successor of many years later. These two men had adopted and understood that character and integrity were the hallmarks of greatness. They knew it was not a charade for chameleons.
They knew it was easier to present your best self than to present a false self. Abraham Lincoln showed this wisdom when he said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”**
Fooling people was not the game these two men played. They cared about people and the country. They were true Christians. Their relationship with God was most important to them.
Lincoln said on one occasion, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” On another occasion he said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”**
Lincoln was not only a man of integrity, he was man of compassion. He exemplified the Savior in his dealings with his fellow men. The modern world, with our twisted idea of morality, would have thought him foolish in the way he conducted his business dealings, but the following stories taken from www.inspirationalstories.com give deeper insight to the character of Lincoln.
Lincoln didn’t like to charge people much who were as poor as he was. Once a man sent him 25 dollars, but Lincoln sent him back 10 of it, saying he was being too generous.
He was known at times to convince his clients to settle their issue out of court, saving them a lot of money and earning himself nothing.
An old woman in dire poverty, the widow of a Revolutionary soldier, was charged $200 for getting her $400 pension. Lincoln sued the pension agent and won the case for the old woman. He didn’t charge her for his services and, in fact, paid her hotel bill and gave her money to buy a ticket home.
He and his associate once prevented a con man from gaining possession of a tract of land owned by a mentally ill girl. The case took 15 minutes. Lincoln’s associate came to divide up their fee, but Lincoln reprimanded him. His associate argued that the girl’s brother had agreed on the fee ahead of time, and he was completely satisfied.
“That may be,” said Lincoln, “but I am not satisfied. That money comes out of the pocket of a poor, demented girl, and I would rather starve than swindle her in this manner. You return half the money at least, or I’ll not take a cent of it as my share.”
He was a fool, perhaps, by certain standards. He didn’t have much, and it was his own fault. But he was a good human being by anyone’s standards and I’m glad we celebrate his birthday.
Honesty makes you feel good about yourself and creates trust in others. It improves your relationship with yourself and with others. It’s not much in fashion these days to talk about the benefits of honesty and decency, but the benefits are there and they are valuable and worth the trouble.
Lincoln didn’t talk much about religion, even with his best friends, and he didn’t belong to any church. But he once confided to a friend that his religious code was the same as an old man he knew in Indiana, who said, “When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.”
Lincoln and Washington stand as heroes from the past, and their legacy lives on because they were men of integrity. They were true to their principles and values. They spoke the truth in all circumstances. Men like that in our modern world are few and far between.
It is as though one day’s news contradicts the news of last week. Lies are common and schemes are uncovered daily. It would be wonderful if men in office would take a lesson from Washington and Lincoln and abandon sophistry and become honest in word and deed.
Lincoln said at the eulogy of Benjamin Ferguson, “In very truth he was, the noblest work of God – an honest man.” This statement could well have been said about Washington and Lincoln, for they were born of the same heart and mind. They lived what their lips spoke.
It really doesn’t matter who chopped down the cherry tree. Honesty was the issue then – and it still is. PD
**Quotes from www.brainyquote.com