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Abraham Lincoln

Michelle Austein Brooks

Marking the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth February 12, President Obama said he feels "a special gratitude to this singular figure who in so many ways made my own story possible and in so many ways made America's story possible."

Across the country and at U.S. Embassies abroad, Americans celebrated the birthday of the country's 16th president. Obama spoke about the first Republican president during a speech at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and in Springfield, Illinois, the town where Lincoln began his political career.

Lincoln, considered among the nation's greatest presidents, is most known for his ability to keep the Union together during the Civil War and his decision to emancipate the slaves. While much attention has been given to his abilities as commander in chief, Lincoln was also a diplomat and lover of the arts.

Obama long has admired Lincoln and has read many of the former president's writings. Obama arrived in Washington for his inauguration on a whistle-stop train tour similar to the one Lincoln took before he became president. Obama took his oath of office while swearing on Lincoln's Bible.

In a 2005 writing, Obama said Lincoln's biography, his "rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat ... reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of American life - the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams."

Many U.S. media outlets have cited the similarities between Lincoln and Obama. Both lawyers got their political starts in Springfield, serving in the state government.

Lincoln and Obama were first-term U.S. senators representing Illinois when they launched unlikely presidential bids. In fact, both of them faced competition from U.S. senators from New York: William Seward for Lincoln and Hillary Clinton for Obama. Interestingly, both Lincoln and Obama chose these former rivals to serve as their secretaries of state.

"This president isn't seeking to compare himself with I think what many believe is one of the two or three greatest presidents that this country has ever had," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a February 12 press briefing.

But the president did seek to demonstrate how Lincoln's legacy carries on today.

"What Lincoln never forgot, not even in the midst of a 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," Obama said at the Capitol February 12.

While not as divided as in Lincoln's day, Americans continue to debate critical issues, sometimes fiercely, Obama said. As Americans debate, Obama said, "we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people and as stakeholders in a common future."

"This is the most fitting tribute we can pay, the most lasting monument we can build, to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."

The text of Obama's remarks at the Capitol is available on America.gov. here

For more information on Lincoln, see America.gov's publication Abraham Lincoln: A Legacy of Freedom.

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