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A Comparison of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln

Learning About The Presidency


The Obama campaign has made the hay out of the Lincoln legacy, from making his announcement speech on the steps of the Old Illinois State Capitol in Springfield (the site of Abraham Lincoln's famous "house divided" speech) to deflecting questions about his lack of national experience (also a criticism of Lincoln). How are the two men alike and how are they different?

Illinois Transplants

Both Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln adopted Illinois as their home state, but only one did it as an adult.

Lincoln was born in Kentucky on 12 February 1809; his family moved to Indiana when he was eight years old, and later his family moved to Illinois. He stayed in Illinois as an adult, marrying and raising a family.

Obama was born in Hawaii on 4 August 1961; his mother moved to Indonesia with his step-father, where he lived from age five to 10. He then returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. He moved to Illinois in 1985 and returned to Illinois after obtaining a law degree from Harvard.

Skilled Rhetoricians

We know Lincoln's rhetorical prowess as much from the Lincoln-Douglas debates as from the Gettysburg Address. We also know that Lincoln wrote his speeches, by hand, and usually delivered the speech as written. (source)

On the other hand, Obama, who has invoked Lincoln in almost every major speech he has given, has a speechwriter. His name is Jon Favreau, and he is very familiar with Lincoln. Favreau writes draft speeches for Obama; both Obama and his chief strategist David Axelrod review the drafts and make suggestions on tone, emphasis. (source)

Divided Citizenry

When Lincoln was elected on 6 November 1860, the country was divided over the issue of slavery. On 20 December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union; by 1 February 1861, six additional southern states had seceded. Lincoln was sworn in as president on 4 March 1861.

When Obama began running for president, a majority of Americans opposed the war in Iraq (source) as well as the performance of then President George W. Bush (source).
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