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Lincoln’s Life Celebrated

A vast gathering, from schoolchildren to Members of Congress, gathered in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday to commemorate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through the Civil War and, as President Barack Obama said, “in so many ways made America’s story possible.”

“What Lincoln never forgot, not even in the midst of 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,” said Obama, the first Illinoisan since Lincoln elected to the White House.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that the Republican Party was formed in 1854 out of an opposition to slavery, and that Lincoln’s “rise to the White House paralleled the mounting tension in America over slavery.”

Illinois Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) and Don Manzullo (R) together recited the Gettysburg Address, one of Lincoln’s most celebrated speeches, delivered at the height of the Civil War in 1863. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered brief remarks during the hourlong ceremony, sharing their favorite lessons learned from the nation’s 16th president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proudly noted that Lincoln’s roots began in Hodgenville, Ky., and that despite a simple background, the would-be president rose to prominence through perseverance.

“Lincoln’s greatness did not lie in the mere achievement of a personal goal. Rather, it lies in the greatness of his soul,” McConnell said. “Many have blazed a trail of success, but few have done more than this son of Hodgenville to make it possible for so many others to do the same.”

Visibly proud of his Illinois roots as he spoke, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D) praised Lincoln’s ability to inspire through words in a timeless way — an attribute often applied to Obama.

“Over his unequaled lifetime, he used his hand and pen to produce some of the most beautiful and haunting words in the English language,” said Durbin, who went on to quote Lincoln’s most famous line.

“In our darkest hour, he preserved the union, and he made this nation keep the promise in our Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal.’”

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