Just shy of 200 years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the “unfinished work” he mentioned in the Gettysburg Address came a little closer to being fulfilled with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States on January 20, 2009. Set against the backdrop of the US Capitol Building on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Washington, DC, the former Senator from Illinois accepted his historic position.
Obama’s rise to the Oval Office began, by most accounts, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. With a stirring speech appealing to the better angels of an American populace divided by increasingly polarized political parties, he grabbed the headlines while still just a candidate for a Senate seat. Possessing a telegenic smile and smooth oratorical style, both pundits and party operatives tabbed him as a future nominee for the Democrats in a presidential race. As Senator John Kerry crashed to defeat at the hands of incumbent President George W. Bush, many tabbed Obama as “one for the future,” particularly when compared with Kerry’s dry, stiff persona.
As the 2008 primary season began, a wide field of candidates filled the rolls of both parties. Regarded by most as an outsider when he announced his bid for the presidency on February 10, 2007, Obama faced an uphill climb to overcome the name recognition associated with long-serving Democrats Hilary Rodham Clinton and previous Vice President nominee John Edwards. Over the course of a 16-month fight through party primaries, largely in a bitter contest against Clinton, Obama gained the support of his party in June 2008 and formally accepted the nomination two months later.
Campaigning as a fresh face representing change, Obama’s political machine mobilized in new ways to compete with Republican nominee John McCain in the November election. Harnessing the power of the Internet generation, volunteers used social media to connect with younger voters to great effect. When the polls opened on November 4, 2008, more than half of all Americans aged 18-29 turned up to vote — just one percent shy of the record 55.5 percent turnout in the contest between Richard Nixon and George McGovern in 1972. Riding the wave of women, minorities and twentysomethings, Obama claimed the victory with 53 percent of the popular vote and a 365-173 edge in the Electoral College.
According to custom, a Joint Congressional Committee gathered to plan the ceremony for the President-elect’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. Headed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the six-person team set out to plan the momentous occasion built around the theme “A New Birth of Freedom” to tie the legacy of the Gettysburg Address — perhaps the most famous speech in US history — in to the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American leader just three weeks shy of Lincoln’s birthday.
Conscious of the significance of the moment, the Presidential Inaugural Committee — charged with planning events leading up to and after the actual event — scheduled a train ride to mirror Lincoln’s journey to the White House in 1861. New inaugural balls were created to allow those without the means to pay a premium price to still have access to the festivities, a fact that pales in comparison to the opening of the National Mall to spectators giving some 1.8 million people the chance to witness the event live. (When combined with the TV and online audiences, the inauguration rates as one of the most-viewed events in history.)
At approximately 12:05pm local time, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Obama, officially making him President of the United States. The choppy delivery between Roberts and the new President — both men stumbled over different parts of the 39-word speech — forced White House counsel to ask for a second ceremony as a precaution. In order to match the Constitutional text word for word, the two men executed the procedure again the following evening in the Map Room in front of aides, reporters and the President’s official photographer.
Also On This Day:
1265 – The first meeting of the English Parliament
1841 – British forces occupy Hong Kong Island
1885 – LaMarcus Thompson patents the roller coaster
1887 – The United States Navy signs a lease for a base a Pearl Harbor
1936 – King Edward VIII begins his short-lived reign of England upon the death of his father, King George V
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January 20 1936 – King Edward VIII Begins His Short-Lived Reign Of England Upon The Death Of His Father, King George V