Public Square

What George Washington and Abraham Lincoln Thought about Work

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On President’s Day, we remember the lives of two great men – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – and how these individuals served our country.

But though they are best remembered for what they did as the presidents of the United States, did you know that they were also both known for their work ethic long before either of them became president?

George Washington said,

Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do – then do it with all your strength.

As a youth, he was a surveyor and a soldier, later becoming a farmer and entrepreneur who transformed his home, Mount Vernon, from a mildly-productive tobacco farm into a modern and efficient trading center that produced flour and distilled whiskey.

Abraham Lincoln held a similar view of work and vocation. Raised in an extremely poor family, he learned that work was hard but was a way to achieve success and improve one’s character.

He also believed that each worker should be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor without having to worry about theft or government policies that favored particular groups. Commenting on the tariff policies of his day, Lincoln said,

In the early days of the world, the Almighty said to the first of our race “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”…it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.

God calls us to have a high view of work in everything we do: not just the jobs that we think of as “influential” or “important,” but also in the roles that we think that no one else notices. After all, Lincoln and Washington were not just presidents – their many occupations were what led them to become some of the most influential individuals in American history.

Likewise, God calls us to be faithful in the small things so that he can prepare us for the work that he is calling us to do in the future.

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Photo of George Washington courtesy of Patrick Ashley and photo of Abraham Lincoln courtesy of Believe Creative.

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