Barack Obama has deftly evoked history in his march to the presidency.
The president-elect has paid homage to Abraham Lincoln from the announcement of his candidacy on the steps of the old Illinois capitol in Springfield, to his whistle-stop trek from Philadelphia on the way to inaugural weekend in Washington D.C.
New Declaration of Independence
In his January 17th speeches at both Philadelphia and Baltimore, the president-elect hearkened back to the courage of founding fathers, “What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.” Will this call for a new declaration of independence echo in his inaugural address?
On January tenth, the Obama family visited the Lincoln Memorial, the site of another pivotal speech, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream.” That was August 28, 1963. Barack Obama had just turned two years old.
At the Lincoln Memorial, the Obamas were gazing at the words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, etched in the walls. Malia asked her father if he had to give a speech. Upon hearing that he did, Malia said, “ ‘First African American president — it better be good.”
After taking the oath of office with his hand on the Lincoln bible, what will Barack say in his inaugural address? Will there be a call to action similar to Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”?
Are there hints to be found in Lincoln’s inaugural address? Lincoln, too, cast his presidency in historical perspective:
“It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.”
‘Better Angels of Our Nature’
Indeed, Lincoln’s entire inaugural address was aimed to reach out to reassure southerners with secession on their minds. While President Obama does not face civil war, the past eight years have reduced the opposition party to minority status. With the enormous challenges facing Obama and our country, the solutions require both sides coming together to work for the greater good.
In Philadelphia and Baltimore, Barack Obama’s words already echoed the “better angels” phrase from Lincoln’s closing to his inaugural address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
From Lincoln’s second inaugural address, we may here his words echoed:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan–to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Look for a call to action and a call for unity and a call to the world as much as to these United States, for peace.