Obama Celebrates Lincoln's Bicentennial with 'Special Gratitude'

ABC News' Karen Travers reports:

President Obama’s admiration for Abraham Lincoln has been well-documented and today he kicked off the celebrations for Lincoln's bicentennial at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol by noting his “special gratitude” for the nation’s 16th president.

“I can say that I feel a special gratitude to this singular figure who in so many ways made by own story possible –- and who in so many ways made America’s story possible,” Obama said.

Obama has channeled Lincoln many times since launching his presidential campaign from Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Ill., in 2007. In the lead-up to his inauguration, Obama traveled by rail to Washington as Lincoln did in 1861 and for his swearing-in on January 20, Obama used the same Bible that Lincoln used for his own oath.

This morning, Obama noted that it is fitting that a celebration for Lincoln’s birthday would take place in the Capitol building because it is a building that is “bound ever so closely to the times of this immortal president.”

The building was built in part by slaves and during the Civil War, Union soldiers were housed and treated there, and the construction of the iconic dome continued during the fighting. Obama spoke of how the workers who were building the dome wondered daily if the construction would halt and the metal would be used for bullets in the war. He said that when Lincoln was informed about the metal being used to finish the Capitol building his response was “short and clear: that is as it should be.”

“The American people needed to be reminded, he believed, that even in a time of war, the work would go on; that even when the nation itself was in doubt, its future was being secured; and that on that distant day, when the guns fell silent, a national capitol would stand, with a statue of freedom at its peak, as a symbol of unity in a land still mending its divisions,” the president said.

Obama spoke of Lincoln’s order at the end of the Civil War that no Confederate soldier was to be punished. Instead they were to be sent home to their families and their work. “That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed,” the president said.

Perhaps in a nod to the stimulus bill negotiations on Capitol Hill this week, President Obama noted that while the nation is “far less divided” than it was in the 1860s, lawmakers should remember that as they debate the critical issues of the day, “we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future.”

Later tonight, President Obama will travel to Springfield to deliver remarks at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association annual banquet.

-- Karen Travers

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