WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama called on citizens Thursday to follow Abraham Lincoln's example of showing generosity to political opponents and valuing national unity - above all else.
At a ceremony in the stately Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol marking the 16th president's 200th birthday, Obama said he felt "a special gratitude" to the historical giant, who in many ways made his own story possible. On Thursday night, Obama, the nation's first black president, will deliver the keynote address at the Abraham Lincoln Association's annual banquet in Springfield, Ill.
As lawmakers and guests looked on, Obama recalled Lincoln's words in the closing days of the Civil War, when the South's defeat was certain.
Lincoln "could have sought revenge," Obama said, but he insisted that no Confederate troops be punished.
"All Lincoln wanted was for Confederate troops to go back home and return to work on their farms and in their shops," Obama said. "That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed."
A day after House and Senate leaders agreed on a costly economic stimulus plan that drew scant Republican support, Obama said, "we are far less divided than in Lincoln's day," but "we are once again debating the critical issues of our time."
"Let us remember that we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future," Obama said. "That is the most fitting tribute we can pay and the most lasting monument we can build to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)