- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Hundreds of visitors joined lawmakers and scholars Thursday at the Lincoln Memorial, the cornerstone of American history, to mark the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

President Obama also paid tribute to the Great Emancipator - the 16th president - in a midday ceremony at the U.S. Capitol and an evening speech in Illinois, where both men got their starts as politicians.

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

At the Lincoln Memorial, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, said, “One of the most astonishing things about Abraham Lincoln is how long it has taken us to understand his true meaning.

“For so long it seems our nation failed the essence of Abraham Lincoln’s message. We are so fortunate to live in a time when we can see that changing,” Mr. Durbin said.

He also the recalled the country’s journey from when Lincoln, a Republican, in 1862 issued a proclamation to free the country’s black slaves to Barack Obama, a Democrat, last month being sworn in as the country’s first black president.

“What an unforgettable, awe-inspiring sight it was to look past President and Mrs. Obama, down this great Mall, past 2 million joyous observers of every race from all across America and around the world and realize that President Abraham Lincoln was gazing down in serene on that vision,” he said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also addressed the crowd, on a windy morning.

Lincoln,”is in many ways, the definition of what it means to be an American,” he said. “His courage, humility, his faith, his commitment to freedom and justice, and his belief of a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people shine as a beacon over our entire history.”

Mr. Obama picked Lincoln’s bible for the swearing-in. And Wednesday night, Mr. Obama went to the re-opening of the Ford Theatre, in Northwest, where Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.

“I know she will be glad later in life that she was here,” said a mother as she shielded her daughter from the wind. “She’ll hear about President Lincoln in her history classes and now she can say she was at the bicentennial celebration.”

Mr. Obama joined nearly 600 people inside the Capitol Rotunda later Thursday to honor Lincoln.

“What Lincoln never forgot, not even in the midst of Civil War, was that despite all that divides us - north and south, black and white - we were, at heart, one nation and one people, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break,” he said. “As we meet here today, in a moment when we are far less divided than in Lincoln’s day, but when we are once again debating the critical issues of our time … let us remember that we are doing so as servants of the same flag, representatives of the same people and stakeholders in a common future. That is the most fitting tribute we can pay, the most lasting monument we can build to that most remarkable of men: Abraham Lincoln.”

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