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Words of Lincoln Will Be Woven Into Obama Inaugural Activities

Workers construct the president's reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House on Monday. About 250,000 parade tickets have been printed, but attendance is expected to be much higher.
Workers construct the president's reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House on Monday. About 250,000 parade tickets have been printed, but attendance is expected to be much higher. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael E. Ruane and Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Seventy-five days and counting -- to "game day," as the military planners call it. Inauguration Day to the rest of us.

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It is not a lot of time until Jan. 20, the day Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the nation's first black president.

The congressional committee in charge of the swearing-in announced yesterday that the inaugural theme will come from stirring words spoken by Abraham Lincoln and be linked to the 200th anniversary of his birth next year.

"A New Birth of Freedom," words taken from the Gettysburg Address, will be woven throughout the inaugural ceremonies and will commemorate the Feb. 12, 2009, Lincoln Bicentennial.

Both men were legislators from Illinois. Both were elected at crucial moments in the nation's history. And the election of one paved the way for the election of the other, more than a century later.

In addition, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and prosecution of the Civil War helped end slavery, and Obama, in his election night speech Tuesday, used Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people" words, also from the Gettysburg Address.

It was at Lincoln's second inauguration, in 1865, that African Americans were allowed to participate in the parade for the first time, according to the congressional 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,' " Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said in a statement. "It is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."

"On January 20, as President-elect Obama takes the oath of office, he will look across the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, where many of the sixteenth president's immortal words are inscribed," Feinstein said. "Although some inaugural traditions have changed since Lincoln's time, the swearing-in ceremony continues to symbolize the ideals of renewal, continuity, and unity that he so often expressed."

Meanwhile, inaugural balls and a parade must be arranged. Platforms and reviewing stands must be built. Marching bands picked. Military escorts for VIPs interviewed and selected. And plans made for the throng of visitors, perhaps the most ever to see a presidential inauguration.

But like Lincoln, Obama has been elected during perilous times at home and abroad, and the nation's economic distress could mitigate the urge to celebrate and dampen the customary extravagance.

Hotel reservations, however, have been brisk and many hotels are sold out, despite expensive minimum stays and pricey packages. One of the priciest, the J.W. Marriott's $1 million 300-room package, was purchased this week. A hotel spokesman said he was not at liberty to name the purchaser.


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