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February 14, 2010

'The Boy by the Fire'

Special thanks to Carolyn Le for this week's illustration. To view more of her work, visit

February 14, 2010|By Jennifer James

The boy's only light was the firelight. It flickered on the walls of the log cabin and danced in his deep, serious brown eyes. It was late -- the middle of the night -- his favorite time of day -- his time for reading. He especially liked to read Aesop's fables, the Bible and "The Life of Washington."

George Washington's words flickered in the firelight:

"The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them . . . . Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die."

Washington was commander in chief of the Continental Army in theAmerican Revolution. He lost many battles, but still he fought on -- he refused to give up the dream of liberty. When the war was over and the Americans had won, many people wanted him to be king.

A king is a ruler with unlimited power. But the American leaders, called the Founding Fathers, wanted to protect the rights of everyone, not give unlimited power to one. Washington agreed with the Founding Fathers. So he became the first president of the United States of America and the Father of our Country.

Our country was built on the ideal that all men deserve to be free. That is why many of the heroes of the American Revolution believed that owning slaves was wrong.

The boy was proud of his country, but this was something he was not proud of -- slavery in America. Even then he thought, "If this isn't wrong, then nothing is wrong."

That wrong would not be righted until almost 100 years after the American Revolution. And it would be the boy who would right that wrong. He would grow up to be Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States of America, and lead this country in a terrible war.

This war was called the Civil War. This was a time when Southern states wanted to break away from America. They wanted to preserve the right to own slaves. The United States prevented that from happening by going to war. It was a terrible thing -- Americans killing Americans -- and it weighed heavy on Lincoln's shoulders.

Then one night, Lincoln sat in his bedroom at the White House gazing into the darkness, the firelight his only light. It danced in his deep brown, serious eyes and flickered on the walls. It was late -- the middle of the night -- his favorite time of day -- his time for reading. But he did not read that night. He stared into the fire and his fingers caressed a piece of paper. The words "Emancipation Proclamation" flickered in the firelight.

It was a long document, but he didn't have to read it. He knew what it said, because he had written it. He also knew that this document would be the first step in the freeing of the slaves in America.

He thought of the words of Washington and knew that liberty was to be a dream fulfilled.

Recommended reading: "Abe's Honest Words" by Doreen Rappaport and "When Washington Crossed the Delaware" by Lynne Cheney.

Monday, Feb. 15, is Presidents Day.

Special thanks to Carolyn Le for this week's illustration. To view more of her work, visit

For more Kids' Reading Room visit

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