Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Thursday, November 6, 2008

'A New Birth Of Freedom' Is Obama Inaugural Theme

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.


Anonymous said...


All I can say to that is Amen. I hope your friendship survives this election. Fortunately for me, one of mine has.

When the results were announced an old friend of mine said, "This country is totally screwed. He's going to tax us to death." Astonished, I asked, "Do you make less than $200,000 per year? (She does.) Then you'll pay less." I was so ticked off that I had to stand up and walk around as I continued, "I used to like McCain, but he tried to scare people. His whole campaign was based on fear."

We were at work when this exchange took place, and I stayed late to help her complete some work that had to be done before either of us could go home. She jokingly said, "John's my friend" as much to me as to another coworker; but I knew she meant it. Still, the exchange disturbed my sleep for a couple of nights. Now is the time for healing the great divide that the last 16 years has created, not more of the same.

Carol Tiffin James said...

Great post. I agree with every word and empathize with your situation. After the election, I had a strange desire to clean out my car, which I did. Symbolism, huh? I applaud your taking a stand that is risky to your personal life. I, too, a great Lincoln fan, have been startled by the similarities, and privileged to see history made again.

I have a sweatshirt I've been wearing for a few years with Lincoln's picture and "Don't blame me - I voted for Abe" which I will gladly retire now since I don't need it anymore!

PS - My office relationships have deteriorated since one lady insisted that Obama was a hidden terrorist who was infiltrating the US government at the highest level. Sheesh.

Geoff Elliott said...

Thank you, Carol, for your kind words of encouragement. I'm surprised at the level of hatred so many are expressing towards Obama. These people actually believe he's some sort of terrorist.

Just last night a friend of ours said something like "I just think he's a Muslim in disguise and it scares me." I asked her if she thinks all Muslims are terrorists?

She hesitated at first until I pointed out that my wife, who was born and raised in Turkey is part Muslim. Her father is a Turk and her mom is American. So I reminded her about my wife's heritage and told her that her insult of Obama's heritage is identical to insulting my wife. She didn't have anything to say about that. :-)

I'm sorry that people are so upset about the election. But now they just might understand what those of us who were so upset by George W. Bush have felt for the past 8 long years.

Anonymous said...

That Obama invokes Lincoln in his many speeches and the similarities in that they were Illinois lawyers with little government experience is about all they have in common. Obama's views on abortion are disturbing in that they deprive life to our most defenseless citizens. How would Lincoln feel about that? Lincoln's outspokeness against the evils of slavery would certainly apply to the evil of partial birth abortion which Obama supports.
Regarding the sharing of wealth that Obama proposes and the denigration of the rich that has transpired, Lincoln had spoken that we should not tear down those that have, but see them as proof in that if others are rich, you, through your labor, can become rich. I certainly don't feel Lincoln would support taking the earnings of others and give to those that have not earned them.
Wasn't that in essence what slavery was all about?
There is something un-Lincolnesque in Obama I find disturbing. Lincoln had a hardscrabble life whereas Obama seems to have a sense of entitlement in that he can blithely feel he can take from one to give to another and that he could make decisions on when life begins and ends in regards to infants.

Geoff Elliott said...

As far as I know, Lincoln never recorded his views about abortion, so we cannot know what position he would take. I suspect, however, he would be pragmatic towards it. I think he would be against it for the most part, but he would support it if the mother's life was in danger. I do not believe he would have an extremist view on this subject, just as he was not extremist on other issues.

Obama has not denigrated the rich, contrary to what the conservatives believe. He does say, however, that it is morally wrong to give the wealthiest among us the biggest tax cuts while millions of people cannot afford health insurance or have to choose between food and rent.

Lincoln said you cannot elevate the poor by taking down the rich. I agree. However, how many people through their hard work actually become rich? My grandfather worked in the coal mines and coal fields of Appalachian Ohio from the time he was 13 years old, because he had to quit school at that age to support his family. He worked extremely hard to put food on the table for his family and for his children when they came along. He was always a poor man. Meanwhile, the people who OWNED the mines became immensely wealthy while paying their miners about 25 cents for every ton of coal they would load onto coal cars. The owners didn't develop black lung disease, or get crushed to death in their mines.

Lincoln would obviously support hard work to better yourself, just as he did. But he would also NOT support companies outsourcing jobs overseas and getting tax breaks for doing so. He would deeply care about the 47 million people in this country who cannot afford health insurance. For claiming to be "compassionate conservatives," I certainly don't see that segment of society doing anything to help their fellow humans.

I would strongly disagree with what you wrote about Obama having a sense of "entitlement" as if he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. Haven't you read anything about his life? His grandparents basically raised him, because his mom was flighty and not quite there for him. He saw his dad only once in his life, for about 4 weeks. His grandfather was a failed businessman, which meant his grandma had to support the family. And then having dark skin while being raised by white grandparents certainly didn't help the matter.

Obama certainly had a rougher childhood than did McCain, born into a military family, schooled in an exclusive prep school, and getting a "pass" into the Naval Academy thanks to a father and grandfather who were admirals. To take advantage of that history in his family, McCain worked really hard and finished 894th out of 899 students in his class.

Anonymous said...

I don't particularly like Obama, but I can see why you have posted about politics lately because of the numerous reverences to Lincoln. I just hope your blog continues to be about Lincoln and doesn't stray too far from your blog's purpose by getting really political.

Anonymous said...

"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting classhatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves." --Abraham Lincoln
Could Obama ever use this quote of Lincoln's in any of his speeches?
Obama wants to use Socialism to "level the playing field". He calls it justice. I think its goes against everything that this country stands for. We did not become a great country by redistributing wealth. We did it by creating wealth through capitalism and individual effort.
You have a great blog, but I just don't understand this comparing Obama to Lincoln. Lincoln deserves better.

Geoff Elliott said...

I won't get into an argument over Obama and his policies. I posted this article simply because the committee chose Lincoln's words as the inaugural theme.

I realize that Obama detractors claim he's a socialist. That may or may not be true. As for the redistribution of wealth, what exactly do you call the government taking over $700 billion in taxpayer money in order to bail out banks, insurance companies, finacial firms and Fannie and Freddie? I would say that's redistributing OUR wealth so fat cats on Wall Street can earn their obscene bonuses.

Just this morning, the government and AIG announced that AIG will get another $40 billion in OUR money to keep it afloat. In exchange, the government will hold a stake in the company.

Sounds like socialism to me. Redistributing wealth from one group of people to another.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

You are right. I didn't agree with the bailout either. I'm just for making your way with as little government intervention as possible.
I am sorry if I in any way offended you. I understand your interest in seeing Lincoln in the news. I feel the same way. I just feel considering Obama's stated policies, I think there is a misrepresentation of Lincoln taking place and it disturbs me. He was, as we both feel, our greatest President.
Have a great day! and I enjoy your blog!!!!

Anonymous said...

To Mike Fitzpatrick regarding your Nov. 9 Lincoln "quote" ...

Whatever the merits of that list of "you cannots" -- I always wonder why people who post the list seem to think you have to destroy the rich in order to help the poor -- it WASN'T said by Abe Lincoln.

In fact, the entire list was written by William Boetcker, a Presbyterian minister, about 50 years after Lincoln's death.

It really isn't that hard to look this stuff up. This "Lincoln" quote has been debunked a million times. Just type in the first "you cannot" into Google and you'll get several hits with the correct information. I suggest you do that in the future any time you're tempted to pass on a quote you've pulled off the web (especially if it's supposedly from Lincoln, who gets bogus quotes attributed to him all the time).

Here's one such link:

And, yes, Ronald Reagan got in wrong too.

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