Obama Inaugural Strains Lincoln Comparisons While Inviting Them





“Everyone wants to be Lincoln,” says Harold Holzer, who has written or edited more than 20 books on Lincoln and the Civil War. “Is Obama overdoing it? Maybe.”

For most of the 144 years since Lincoln’s death, presidents of all political persuasions have tried to enlist Lincoln’s reputation for honesty and courage in support of their own ambitions. Leaders “see in Lincoln’s suffering validation of the criticism they have to endure,” Holzer says.

Still, the election of America’s first black president, from the same state as the leader who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, gives Obama a stronger claim than most predecessors to Lincoln’s legacy, says Tom Schwartz, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.

There’s a “very clear thread that connects the two,” says Schwartz, who describes Obama’s history-making election as “a kind of bookend to Lincoln’s legacy in the Civil War.”

Obama will be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20, just three weeks before the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, 1809, an anniversary to be accompanied by museum exhibits, ceremonies, and new books planned long before Obama’s victory. “There’s a serendipity to it,” Schwartz says.


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