Discussions of yesterday’s inaugural address have ranged from conservatives saying it heralds another era of big government to others hailing President Barack Obama’s inclusion of a reference to the Stonewall Riots as a landmark in mainstream acceptance of gay and lesbian residents of the United States.
Another aspect of Obama’s speech has generated less attention: its evidence of the prominent role 16th President Abraham Lincoln continues to play in his consciousness.
As he did in 2009, Obama took the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts placing his hand on the same Bible Lincoln used in 1861.
Obama tipped his hat to Lincoln twice during his speech.
In the fourth paragraph, he alluded to Lincoln’s legendary closing of the Gettysburg Address- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”-when he said the patriots of 1776 “gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
Two paragraphs later, he drew from Lincoln’s 1858 “House Divided” speech.
Lincoln said then, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”
Obama declared yesterday, “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.”
These references were only the latest in a series of incidents and quotes that demonstrate the degree to which Obama has modeled himself after the earlier lankier lawyer from Illinois.
After launching his campaign in the shadow of the capitol and referring to Lincoln’s speech, Obama made it known after his election victory over Republican opponent John McCain that he was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Conservative commentator Mona Charen reminds us that Obama took a train route to his first inauguration that was the same as the one Lincoln traveled 148 years earlier.
Before launching into her critique, Charen added that Obama has compared his critics to Lincoln’s critics and confides to admirers that he likes to read the handwritten Gettysburg Address that hangs in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Obama also quoted Lincoln the day before the tightly contested vote on the massive health care reform law that has come to be known as “Obamacare.”
Speaking to the Democratic members of Congress the day before the vote, Obama delivered what some called the most emotional speech they had ever seen him give.
The substance of the speech began as follows:
“I have the great pleasure of having a really nice library at the White House. And I was tooling through some of the writings of some previous Presidents and I came upon this quote by Abraham Lincoln: ‘I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.’”
Obama returned to Lincoln’s words at the end of his address before urging the chamber to “get this done.”
During the 2012 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama invoked Lincoln during his acceptance speech when he spoke about the balance of pride and humility with which he approached the often crushing responsibility of the job he had sought and won:
“And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’”
Obama has gotten up from his knees and secured a further place in American and world history with his re-election over Republican Mitt Romney.
After a day of greeting visitors at the White House, Obama will turn his attention to the second term in earnest.
He will soon find, though, that his guide’s experience will diminish.
Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday April 14, 1865, just five days after the bloody war over which he had presided had officially ended.