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U.S. Presidents past and present celebrated in FebruaryColoma resident Richard Veit has over 30 sim

Coloma resident Richard Veit has over 30 similarities to Abe Lincoln



MR. PRESIDENT… Even without the long black coat and stovepipe hat, Richard Veit, 85, of Coloma, looks just like Abraham Lincoln in his modern-day blue jeans and stripped shirt as he sits among his extensive Abraham Lincoln collection at the Coloma Public Library. (TCR photo by Angela Widdis)

The third Monday of every February has been designated as Presidents’ Day in the United States. It was moved to this day in 1971 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, where at that time it became known as a day to celebrate all past and present U.S. presidents.

Over the years this observance has developed from first being a celebration of the first United States of America President, George Washington’s birthday in 1885 on the 22nd of February. Then it grew to include the celebration of the 16th President’s birthday, Abraham Lincoln, on Feb. 12. However, two more presidents have birthdays in February; William Henry Harrison on Feb. 9 and Ronald Reagan on Feb. 6.

While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Lincoln, and other figures, Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present.

To recall why observers hold Washington and Lincoln in such high regard, consider their words, as they use them as their most powerful tool while in office.

Washington’s Farewell Address

In 1796, as his second term in office drew to a close, President George Washington chose not to seek reelection. Washington informed the American people of his retirement in a public letter that would come to be known as his “Farewell Address.”

In the letter, Washington stressed the importance of the Union that bonded all Americans together and provided for their freedom and prosperity. Washington’s Farewell Address also spoke to contemporary concerns that the Union was weak and vulnerable to attacks from internal and external enemies. But even after the uncertainty of the early national period had passed, his message of unity remained powerful.

In the early nineteenth century, Federalists read the farewell address aloud as part of their yearly commemoration of his birthday. It is still recited annually in the United States Senate, a tradition dating back to the Civil War. The Farewell Address endures as a critical founding document for issues of Union, partisanship, and isolationism to this day.

Mindful of the precedent his conduct set for future presidents, Washington’s last words should be read again and again. It sets the reader up to have ownership of our nation as if we all were to be the president one day. In the body of the letter, it even says, “The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize.”

Abraham Lincoln’s words of wisdom

Lincoln’s presidency was known mainly for abolishing slavery and managing the country during the hardest times in its history, the Civil War. However, his words were so much more powerful than once thought.

Abraham Lincoln also identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the continued existence of the United States. Lincoln’s lifelong opposition to slavery was deeply rooted in his experiences of witnessing slaves, being traded and beaten when he was a young man.

In this speech fragment from 1857, which he later expanded as the opening speech of the 1858 U.S. Senate campaign against Stephen A. Douglas, he first identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the continued existence of the United States. Invoking the famous biblical words from Luke 11:17, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he declared, “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and put it in course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old, as well as new.”

Not to mention his great understanding of the Declaration of Independence; which clearly outlines the rights of Americans such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Because of this he vigorously opposed the exclusion of anyone - based on race, religion, or national origins - from obtaining these rights.

On March 4, 1865, only 41 days before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office for the second time. Lincoln’s second inaugural address previewed his plans for healing a once-divided nation by the Civil War. The speech is engraved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

Whether Lincoln spoke for three hours, as he did in a more than 17,000-word speech that was his reply to Stephen A. Douglas in Peoria, Illinois on the afternoon of Oct. 16, 1854, or if he spoke for just a few minutes with his 272-word speech at Gettysburg, the fact remains that the Gettysburg Address is a cornerstone of American history. His speech rallied a nation and yet created a foundation of American idealism for future generations in those two minutes. He is one of the nation’s greatest presidential orators whose words should not be forgotten.

History can, and does, live on

Two hundred and fourteen years after his birth, Abraham Lincoln’s historical importance endures long after his death.

One of the people who make sure of that is 85-year-old, Coloma resident, Richard Veit. Richard has been impersonating Abraham Lincoln for over 45 years. Visiting over 17 states and Canada, Veit is a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters which keeps Lincoln alive.

The Association of Lincoln Presenters (ALP) is an organization of men and women dedicated to bringing Abraham and Mary Lincoln to life. Through presentations that educate, entertain, and inspire, members honor the words and works of the Lincolns. The ALP mission is to preserve the legacy of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, honor their words and works, and walk in their footsteps.

Clothed in authentic finery, Veit with his mother-of-pearl buttons on his frock coat, and his wife, Della, in her Civil War ball gown, the two have portrayed Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, at numerous events, parades, and educational programs in and around Southwest Michigan.

Veit has done so much research on President Lincoln, that he has a list of over 30 similarities between himself and Abe Lincoln. From both having been born at home, to having a 10-year difference in age between husband and wife, there is no one better to contact than the Veits to help make history come alive. While the pandemic has drastically reduced in-person performances, anyone can reach out to the Coloma Public Library if they are interested in hosting honest Abe and his wife, Mary, at their next event.

Washington and Lincoln remain the two most recognized presidential leaders in the world, but Presidents’ Day is now seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives. Some citizens have objected to this view, arguing that grouping Washington and Lincoln together with less successful presidents minimizes their legacies. The only way to avoid this from happening is by remembering their legacy as both tangible and intangible objects, by recalling their written works or spoken words that remind Americans of their values, life lessons, strong principles, dynamic leadership, and final wishes and instructions, that they left for all Americans to ponder for the past decades, and for the centuries to come.

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