History connects dots with Lincoln as oath happens on MLK Day
Today’s ceremonial inauguration at the Capitol in Washington marks the confluence of three historical figures.
There’s President Barack Obama, whose legacy of presidential accomplishments is yet to be written but whose status as the first African-American U.S. president will forever represent a defining era in U.S. history.
Because of the calender and the Constitution, Obama will take the public oath of office on Martin Luther King Day.
As mandated by the Constitution that requires a president to start a new term at noon Jan. 20, Obama took the official oath Sunday in the White House Blue Room. Because inauguration ceremonies by tradition are not held on Sunday, the public ceremony was postponed until today, the third Monday of January and designated Martin Luther Day.
The symbolic significance is not lost on the president. Obama knows that without the civil rights movement led by King, he would not be standing in front of the U.S. Capitol reciting the oath with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
In recognition of King’s inspiration and sacrifice, Obama will take the ceremonial oath with a Bible that belonged to the iconic civil rights leader.
In recognition of another hero of the president, Obama also will take the oath on a Bible owned by President Abraham Lincoln, the man who emancipated the slaves and guided the nation through its greatest challenge and tragedy, the Civil War.
Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, all three men are blessed with oratorical skills that sometimes soar.
As a reminder of that eloquence, here are words spoken in Washington, D.C., by Lincoln under the uncompleted dome of the Capitol and by King in front of the Lincoln Memorial:
• March 4, 1865, from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
• Aug. 28, 1963, from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
“I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
Despite the troubles of this 21st century, on this historic day of inauguration it is fitting to recall that King and Lincoln were leaders during times that make these tribulations mere foothills compared to the mountains they had to climb.
May we fulfill the dream of all people being judged by the content of their character and may we also achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.