Presidents Day honors George Washington, the father of our country, and Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator. These men share something other than greatness.

Both started out at the bottom of the government ladder. At 18, Washington was surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. Lincoln, at 24, worked as postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, while also serving as assistant county surveyor.

Experience in local government was not unusual for many presidents. Theodore Roosevelt took pride in his service as president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, walking beats with officers. Grover Cleveland was assistant district attorney and sheriff of Erie County, New York. As Buffalo’s mayor, he fought graft and improved the municipal sewer system. Calvin Coolidge went into politics as a city councilor and solicitor in Northampton, Massachusetts. When elected mayor, Coolidge focused on issues like raising teachers’ salaries and cutting taxes. Harry Truman was a county judge (administrator) in Jackson County, Missouri. The driving force behind the Marshall Plan and the desegregation of the United States military spent his early political career supervising the building of county roads and court houses. President Jimmy Carter first spoke out for integration as chair of the Sumter County Georgia School Board.

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