The 44th president of the United States tonight honored the 16th president. President Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln share not only a connection to Springfield as the city that launched their presidencies, but Obama said they also share an appreciation of the ideology that "individual liberty is served -- not negated -- by a recognition of the common good."
Obama said during a Springfield event honoring Lincoln's 200th birthday that the experience was humbling, "humbling for me, in particular, because it's fair to say that the presidency of this singular figure, who we celebrate in so many ways, made my own story possible."
Sounding much like one of his campaign speeches, Obama's roughly 16-minute talk emphasized Democratic ideology that government can play a positive role in channeling energy and innovation for a common cause, particularly in times of crisis.
"Only by coming together, all of us, in union and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsiblity -- for ourselves, yes, but also for one another -- can we do the work that must be done in this country. That is part of the definition of being America."
He inserted some comedy by laughing at his own troubles in trying to appoint a secretary of commerce. Obama described Lincoln, the Springfield lawyer, resting his heels on a cluttered desk, "maybe wondering if someone might call him up and ask him to be commerce secretary." Obama's second nominee, Judd Gregg, a Republican, today withdrew his name and cited irreconcilable differences with the president's economic policy. Obama's first nominee, New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, withdrew his name because he was subject of a federal investigation.
Two years ago this week, Obama launched his presidential candidacy from the Old State Capitol in Springfield, the city where Lincoln served as a legislator and where he departed from on his train ride to Washington, D.C. "It was here nearly 150 years ago that the man whose life we are celebrating today, who you've been celebrating all week, bid farewell to this city that he had come to call his own. And has already been mentioned on a platform at a train station not far from where we're gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd that had come to see him off and said, 'To this place and the kindness these people, I owe everything.' And being here tonight, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiment."
He closed with a challenge. "As one nation, as one people -- that's how we will beat back our present dangers. That is how we will surpass what trials may come. That's how we will do what Lincoln called on us all to do and nobly save the last best hope on earth.
"That's what this is: The last best hope on earth. Lincoln has passed that legacy on to us. It is now our responsibility to pass it on to the next generation."
His speech capped off a day of nationwide attention on Lincoln's birthday and his Illinois connections, as well as his appearance in East Peoria, where he campaigned for public support of his economic stimulus plan at Caterpillar Inc.'s headquarters.
Throughout Springfield, Gov. Pat Quinn appeared at Lincoln-related events. He later hosted an open house at the Governor's Mansion, where he greeted a line of visitors that wrapped around half a block.