This Week in History: Presidential Passages Through the Garden State


This past week, Americans far and near celebrated Presidents’ Day. This holiday commemorates the lives of two of our nation’s foremost leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Presidents’ Day offers Americans a chance to reflect on the lives of these historical figures and learn more about the role of the President in our society. In honor of this historic holiday this week, we will dive deeper into Washington and Lincoln’s lives and how these extraordinary gentlemen crossed paths with the Garden State.

George Washington, America’s first President, has deep ties with the Garden State, particularly with Trenton. Washington is best remembered for serving as our nation’s founding Commander-in-Chief and a key leader in the American Revolution. Washington was present in New Jersey more than any other state during the Revolution. One of Washington’s most famous encounters with New Jersey happened in the Capital City, the American victory during the Battle of Trenton. His time here in Trenton was impactful and purposeful and paved the way for the country we know and love today.

The Battle of Trenton occurred on the morning of December 26th, 1776. Washington and his troops endured a brutal winter storm as they crossed the Delaware River and took the ten-mile trek to Trenton. Morale was precarious, but the troops pressed forward nonetheless. Upon their arrival in Trenton, they would engage with 1,500 Hessian troops. Hessians were mercenaries fighting on behalf of the British Army. This sneak attack caught enemy forces off-guard, and Washington’s troops would emerge victorious. This victory was decidedly the turning point of the Revolution and propelled the United States toward success. Other famous battles fought by Washington’s troops in New Jersey include the Battle of the Assunpink Creek and the Battle of Princeton.

Due in part to his efforts in the Garden State, George Washington was able to become our nation’s first president. His leadership laid the groundwork for his successors for generations to come. One such successor was Abraham Lincoln, who was often regarded as one of our nation’s most outstanding leaders. Under his leadership, the Civil War was fought and won, and slavery was officially abolished in the United States. Like Washington, Lincoln also made some appearances in New Jersey. Although Lincoln did not spend nearly as much time here as Washington, it is still wonderful to know that one of our nation’s heroes spent some time in the Garden State.

Lincoln’s best-remembered moments in New Jersey happened at the New Jersey Legislature in Trenton. Lincoln had a complicated relationship with New Jersey; even though New Jersey was a solidly Union state, NJ did not cast the majority of its votes for Lincoln in the 1860 and 1864 elections. Nonetheless, Lincoln did still come to speak in New Jersey on several occasions. In his addresses to the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly, Lincoln references Washington’s encounter with the Garden State during the Battle of Trenton. He used this imagery to communicate his determination to uphold the Union. Although his speeches were brief, they were impactful, and his message of unity still resonates today.

Although decades separated Washington and Lincoln, their commitment to a united and prosperous country has aligned these two icons. Figures like Washington and Lincoln are larger-than-life heroes in American history, so it is an honor to know that our paths may have followed the same footsteps as these historical men. Presidents’ Day may only come once a year, but the impact and inspiration we can gain from these two men continue to endure generations.