The Inauguration of Barack Obama and the Harkening to Lincoln


Today, January 20, 2009, emerges as a historic day in American History.  It is the day that the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, has been inaugurated.  He is the first African American elected to the presidency of the country, after being the first black candidate to be nominated by a major political party for the presidency in American history.  He is also the first president to pay so much homage to one particular president, Abraham Lincoln.  Here are some of the Lincoln echoes on display thus far:

– Obama announced his candidacy for the presidency from the Old State House in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln served in the State House of Representatives.

– Lincoln is a constant presence in many Obama speeches.  Obama readily has admitted to reading Lincoln’s writings extensively and has modeled some of his language and ideas on how Lincoln phrased them in his own speeches.

–  Obama traveled by rail from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.  He followed the exact same rail line.  A few changes though:  First, Obama stopped in Delaware to pick up Joe Biden.  Second, Obama stopped and gave a speech in Baltimore, a city that he won an overwhelming majority of the votes (Lincoln had to be whisked secretly through Baltimore because of threats on his life).

– When Obama took the oath of office today, he placed his had upon the Lincoln bible, which he requested and had been unearthed from the archives. 

– While the speech itself will be left to future historians to judge, the speech was very frank and honest and called on Americans to sacrfice and to make sure that the sacrifices of previous generations are not ignored.  This language seems very similar to both addresses that Lincoln gave, which were brutally frank and honest, while requesting that Americans work hard to bind the wounds of the nation and come together once again.

– The luncheon today had a multitude of Lincoln references.  First, the luncheon took place in Statuary Hall, which served as the House of Representatives chamber when Lincoln served his one and only term.  The menu included things that Lincoln would have eaten, particularly game birds (duck and pheasants).  The meal was served on China that was modeled after the Lincoln China (see picture above).  The official painting that sat behind the President during lunch was a painting of Yosemite, painted in 1865, and used to honor Lincoln signing a law to protect the land that would become Yosemite National Park in the future.  Several of the remarks made during the luncheon referenced Lincoln and his language from the Gettysburg Address.

–  The pre-inaugural concert was held at the Lincoln Memorial and included a tribute to Lincoln, narrated by Hollywood Historian Tom Hanks, and set to music. 

– The parade, which I am currently watching, includes a float to Illinois.  The float has the old capital building in Springfield, the Sears Tower in Chicago, a White Sox Mascot (Obama’s team from the South Side) and a Giant Lincoln figure that looks like a mascot. 

– At the ball that honored the states of Illinois and Hawaii, Obama had a Chicago-style Cheesecake served.  The cheesecake was topped with apples, which are Lincoln’s favorite fruit.

– The inaugural parade overall had a great wealth of diversity.  So did Lincoln’s celebration,as Lincoln is the first president to both have blacks attend his inaugural reception and had black troops march in his Second Inaugural parade. 

– When Obama gets into the White House, he will be able to use the room where Lincoln signed the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as his private office on the Second Floor. 

For those of you who are excited about the Lincoln Bicentennial, this is a good sign.  Obama certainly has both a great appreciation for Lincoln and a strong sense of history.  One of the first things he will preside over in the coming weeks will be the Lincoln celebration and the president will make decisions about what events he will attend and what role he will play in acknowledging what Lincoln meant to America.  As this entry allows me to resume the Lincoln blog, I will be keeping a close eye on both what the President does in celebration and recognition of Lincoln, as well as what the popular press and media focus upon when they look to Lincoln.


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