- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

President Obama paid tribute Thursday to President Abraham Lincoln on the 200th anniversary of the Great Emancipator’s birth, in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

“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 Americas story possible,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to members of Congress and invited guests inside the Capitol Rotunda.

But like his inaugural address and other moments where America’s first black president has spoken about Lincoln, Mr. Obama made only scant mention of the 16th president’s role in abolishing slavery.

Echoing remarks made Wednesday night at Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 by an actor with Confederate sympathies, Mr. Obama said that Lincoln’s greatest legacy is his quest to preserve the Union.

Mr. Obama, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, made clear that the most meaningful personal lesson he has drawn from Lincoln’s life is one of forgiveness and kindness to his enemies and opponents.

One day after Congress reached a final deal for an $789 billion economic stimulus plan that will be voted on in the next few days, the new president said that America today is “far less divided than in Lincoln’s day … but we are once again debating the critical issues of our time, and debating them sometimes fiercely.”

“Let us remember that we are doing so as servants of the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future. That is the most fitting tribute we can pay — and the most lasting monument we can build — to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln,” Mr. Obama said.

He told a story of Lincoln’s refusal to punish Confederate soldiers at the end of the Civil War, despite “all the misery that each side had exacted upon the other, and despite his absolute certainty in the rightness of the cause of ending slavery.”

“They were to be treated, as he put it, ‘liberally all round,’” he said.

Mr. Obama noted that “the life of this building is bound ever so closely to the times of this immortal President,” a nod to Lincoln’s service in the House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849.

Mr. Obama left the Capitol before the end of the ceremony, as he headed to Illinois where he was scheduled to speak at a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in Springfield, where Lincoln lived, worked and is buried.

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