The Joint Congressional Committee On Inaugural Ceremonies has announced that the theme for President-Elect Barack Obama's inauguration will be "A New Birth Of Freedom." The theme, borrowed from the closing phrase in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was selected by the committee, made up of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Inaugural themes are traditionally chosen to reflect a major anniversary in America, and this year's theme was selected primarily because Obama's inauguration will occur less than a month prior to the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the committee,
"At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature.' It is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."
I think the theme is highly appropriate. First and foremost, it is an honor to the memory of the greatest president in our nation's history and not only because of the bicentennial of his birth. In my opinion, at least, the most important phrase in the Gettysburg Address is when Lincoln wrote ".....that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..." At the onset of the Civil War, Lincoln's main goal was to preserve the Union, with slavery a lower concern of his, if at all. But as the war evolved into the national horror it was, Lincoln gradually came to believe that slavery must be eradicated from the landscape once and for all. Thus his reference to a new birth of freedom, the first being when the U.S. declared its independence in 1776.
Of course, giving freedom to the slaves was just the beginning of the long Civil Rights struggles in our country. The ex-slaves might have been technically "free," but the struggle for "true freedom" has been a long and arduous journey. "Jim Crow" laws placed on the books during the post-Civil War era kept African-Americans segregated, suppressed their right to vote, and were used to terrorize them into submission. The 1960's saw sit-ins, protest marches, and further fights in the battle for not just freedom, but for equality and justice for African-Americans.
This is why Obama's inaugural theme of "A New Birth Of Freedom" is so "fitting and proper." After more than 400 years of slavery, inequality, and injustice for African-Americans in our land, we are about to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president. Of course, that doesn't mean the struggle is finished. But we will be closer, at least, to the finish line.
As a history blogger, I really do try to keep The Abraham Lincoln Blog from being too political. I've commented during this presidential campaign on the various candidates from both major political parties, but only as they pertained to Mr. Lincoln. Candidates compared themselves to Lincoln ("I'll put rivals in my cabinet just like Abe did") or were compared to Lincoln by others. I criticized Ron Paul once for his bizarre statements about Lincoln.
But I do have to admit that I've become a strong supporter of President-elect Obama. No, I don't think he's the Messiah, as some right-wingers accuse Obama voters of believing. While I do think it's too early to call Obama "Lincoln-esque," the parallels are striking. Both Lincoln and Obama exploded onto the national scene, both served approximately the same amount of time in the Illinois Legislature, both had limited experience in national politics. More importantly, Obama's call for unity and his words of hope are so similar to Lincoln's.
I wrote a post back on the evening of Obama's acceptance speech at the Democrat convention which might have cost me a friendship of more than twenty years. That post was written because I was thrilled that history was occurring before our very eyes and I wanted to recognize that in my blog. This friend of mine, who was a groomsman in my wedding, called my post "drivel" and told me it was not "fair and balanced." This is an example of the divisiveness and attacks launched by both sides of the political spectrum for far too long.
If this friendship is lost over an election, I will mourn it. But I rejoice that a message of hope and inspiration won over a message of hate and fear.