PHILADELPHIA, PA — Here in the City of Brotherly Love this morning, following in the footsteps of his hero President Abraham Lincoln, President-elect Obama will call for "a new Declaration of Independence" and ask Americans to invoke the same spirit of our Founding Fathers to get through these challenging times.
"What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed," the President-elect will say, calling for a new declaration of independence "not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."
The reference to "better angels," like so much about this Inaugural, is a nod to the 16th President, who in his first Inaugural address expressed the hop that "every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Mr. Lincoln stopped here on February 22, 1861 on the way to his first inaugural, and delivered an extemporaneous address at Independence Hall that paid tribute to the history document that the soon-to-be-44th President will today invoke.
Lincoln, a former one-term Congressman and state legislator from Illinois, said then that "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence."
Mr. Obama, a former one-term Senator and state legislator from Illinois himself, has constantly invoked Lincoln, from his formal declaration of his candidacy at the old state house in Springfield, Illinois, to his reference to Lincoln’s "Team of Rivals" when assembling his own Cabinet full of former primary opponents, to his use on Tuesday of Mr. Lincoln’s Bible for his oath of office, to his being served a luncheon that day that Lincoln would have enjoyed.
Obama’s speech today — originally planned for Independence Hall, but moved indoors to 30th Street Station for unknown reasons — will continue this tribute to his fellow lanky-Illinoisan-turned-President.
"We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots but to take up the work that they began," he will say, according to excerpts of his speech provided to ABC News by the Obama Transition Team. "The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast. An economy that is faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely. A planet that is warming from our unsustainable dependence on oil. And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not."
As always, Mr. Obama will combine his lofty rhetoric with some expectations-lowering language, saying that "such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly. There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. And we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency.
"But we should never forget that we are the heirs of that first band of patriots, ordinary men and women who refused to give up when it all seemed so improbable; and who somehow believed that they had the power to make the world anew," he will say. "That is the spirit that we must reclaim today."
Lincoln’s trip, it might be noted, was fraught with peril. Assassins awaited him in Baltimore, and when he spoke off the cuff in Philadelphia on George Washington’s birthday, he heralded that "sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time" and said "if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle…I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it."
Possibly regretting his words a moment later, Lincoln said, "I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here—I supposed I was merely to do something towards raising a flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet, but I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, in the pleasure of Almighty God, die by."
The whistle-stop train tour will begin in Philadelphia, brake to a slow roll in Claymont, Delaware, so the Obamas can wave at supporters, and stop in Wilmington, Delaware.
There the Obamas will be joined by that state’s most famous Amtrak commuter, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who commuted home to the small-wonder state rather than get a home in Washington, DC, for his 36 years in the Senate. After a rally in Delaware, the train will again slow-roll in Edgewood, Maryland, and stop for a rally in Baltimore, Maryland, where Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporter, Mayor Sheila Dixon, was recently indicted for accepting illegal gifts. The Obamas and Bidens will arrive in the nation’s capital this evening.
– Jake Tapper