Saturday, February 12, 2005

Men dressed as Civil War soldiers and women in flowing period dresses were among the hundreds who came to the National Mall yesterday to stand beneath the towering statue of Abraham Lincoln and commemorate his 196th birthday.

“Abraham Lincoln’s mystic dream of the Union’s preservation was bought at a terrible cost,” the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, told an audience inside the open-air memorial or standing on the steps in the cool afternoon air. “It was a struggle to create a stronger Union with greater diversity.”

The 16th president of the United States was assassinated April 14, 1865, during his second term by John Wilkes Booth, just miles away at the Ford’s Theatre. He was 56.

“This is a time to remember President Lincoln’s effort to preserve the Union and give liberty to all,” said Joseph M. Lawler, a regional director of the National Park Service.

President Bush, who also is beginning his second term, sent a letter to the Lincoln Birthday National Commemorative Committee. Lincoln’s values have made America strong and should be preserved, Mr. Bush said in the letter, which was read yesterday.

At the White House on Friday, he also hosted an hourlong slide show titled “Lincoln: Seen and Heard.”

An a cappella duet of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Cynthia Whitt and Mabel Dunkirk Smith of the Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., provided one of the most stirring moments yesterday. Mrs. Whitt is the university’s vice president and Mrs. Smith is a retired music professor.

Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Kentucky to Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks. He was 7 when the family moved to Indiana and 21 when they moved to Illinois. He was a militia captain in the Black Hawk War and just 25 when elected to the Illinois State Legislature.

Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846 and was 40 when he introduced a bill to free slaves in the District of Columbia.

As president in 1862, he signed the law freeing slaves in the District. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation one year later for slaves throughout the states in rebellion against the Union.

Michael F. Bishop, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, said yesterday that Lincoln’s struggle was essentially between the principles of right and wrong. Lincoln was “the man who more than any other sounded the death knell of slavery,” Mr. Bishop said.

Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, in 1865, is engraved in the north wall of the 85-year-old memorial.

In that speech, Mr. Lincoln refers to the issue of slavery as “the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation.” One eighth of the U.S. population were slaves at the time.

Eighteen months earlier, Lincoln had gone by train to a Pennsylvania battlefield to deliver the Gettysburg Address. He wrote the address on the back of an envelope during the uncomfortable ride, said Peter Arrott Dixon, chairman of the Lincoln Birthday National Commemorative Committee.

The address, engraved on the memorial’s south wall, was repeated yesterday by retired Army Major General John K. Singlaub.

The audience remained in place until 25 wreaths were placed at the feet of the seated Lincoln statue. The wreath donors included President Bush, the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Dames of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the 81st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Friends of Hildee-Home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the American War Mothers and the Lincoln Commission at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The United States Marine Band performed much of the music yesterday, including “Taps” from a lone bugler to conclude the hourlong program.

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