“For that is our unyielding faith — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That’s what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people — as Americans.”
— President Barack Obama
On Feb. 10, 2007, Illinois senator and former civil rights lawyer Barack Obama declared his candidacy for the U.S. presidency.
How fitting that Obama — now the first black president — made the announcement while standing in front of the same building Abraham Lincoln made his famous “House Divided” speech against slavery 150 years ago.
Like Lincoln, Obama asked his country for unity.
“This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change,” he said. “By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail.”
Throughout the campaign, he continued to compare himself to Lincoln, the “tall gangly self-made Springfield lawyer,” who was born in Hodgenville, but staked his political future in Illinois.
As Obama was sworn into office Jan. 20, he placed his hand on the same Bible used at the inauguration of Lincoln — the president who emancipated the slaves during the Civil War.
Even the theme of Obama’s Inauguration is taken from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “A New Birth of Freedom.”
Obama was the first president since Lincoln to use that Bible, according to the Library of Congress. It was originally purchased by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court, just for the inauguration. It is bound in burgundy velvet and was published by the Oxford University Press in 1853.
In the back of the Bible is a note, along with a Supreme Court Seal, “I, William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the said court do hereby certify that the preceding copy of the Holy Bible is that upon which the Honorable. R.B. Taney, Chief Justice of the said Court, administered to His Excellency, Abraham Lincoln, the oath of office as President of the United States.”
“I think it’s really neat he’s chosen Lincoln’s Bible,” said Russell Hinkle, who campaigned extensively for the Obama camp.
Hinkle, who held a Democratic platform for Obama at his White City home in July, was invited to the inauguration, but did not attend.
“Pomp and circumstance is not really my thing,” Hinkle said.
Instead, he organized a community service project in honor of the inauguration, as requested on the invitation.
It’s a fitting tribute to the campaign which focused so much on “hope,” he said. The invitation suggested the endeavors be completed on Jan. 19 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hinkle, who works at The Lincoln Museum, said there are many similarities between the new president and the Great Emancipator, but mostly, he sees Obama’s deep admiration for Lincoln.
The Lincoln Inaugural Bible will go on display at the Library of Congress Feb. 12 to May 9, as part of a Lincoln Bicentennial exhibition.
More Lincoln-Obama connections
• Obama co-sponsored legislation of the “Penny Bill,” which provides for a series of one-cent coins in honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial. Other sponsors were legislators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jim Bunning, R-Ky., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
• The first course at the inaugural luncheon Jan. 20 consisted of seafood — favorites of Lincoln and Obama, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The ingredients for the main course — duck breast with cherry chutney, herb-roasted pheasant with wild-rice stuffing, molasses sweet potatoes and vegetables — represent foods Lincoln would have eaten during his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana.
• Both Lincoln and Obama lost the popular vote in Kentucky. Lincoln received less than 1 percent; Obama received 41 percent.