NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s reverence for Abraham Lincoln and the 200th anniversary of his birth have thrust the 16th U.S. president into the limelight as the subject of a new exhibit and an upcoming auction in New York.
Obama, who took the oath of office on a Bible used to swear in Lincoln in 1861, often cited him in campaign speeches and said the man who freed the slaves also helped pave the way for his own election. The connection has elicited comparisons of the language skills of the two gangly presidents from Illinois.
The New York Historical Society’s exhibit “Lincoln in his own Words” begins on Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. That same day Christie’s auction house will put up for sale Lincoln’s handwritten 1864 re-election victory speech.
The exhibit includes photographs, posters, telegrams and letters in Lincoln’s handwriting, including a draft of Lincoln’s “house divided” speech on the dangers of disunion over slavery. There is also a telegram encouraging top general Ulysses S. Grant at a turning point of the Civil War.
The Christie’s auction features a handwritten four-page speech by Lincoln that was delivered two days after he was elected for a second term. It has an estimated value of $3 million to $4 million.
“There are no sound recordings, no videotapes of those speeches that Lincoln gave, so the idea that these speeches that he carried with him on his body somewhere, in his coat or in his hat, in his handwriting, to me they are the most magic,” said James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Basker drew comparisons between the oratory skills and language contained in the speeches of Lincoln and Obama.
“Their gifts with language are tremendous and they have abilities as orators that have to do with articulating ideas in somewhat grey language sometimes, but in phraseology that resonates with people and conveys real ideas and real values,” Basker said.
Obama “repeatedly and brilliantly quotes” Lincoln, Basker said, adding that both were from modest backgrounds where “they learned to talk to real people, with big ideas.”
The exhibit, which runs until July, dispels what Basker labeled as myths about Lincoln: that of being a passive president, suffering depression and being estranged from his wife.
“All these documents testify that Lincoln the executive was very forceful,” he said, and pointed to letters in the exhibit that reveal Lincoln’s more personal side, including letters written to his wife Mary Todd days before his death.
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Vicki Allen