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On February 12, 2009, our country—and the world, for that matter—will celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, the favorite son of our great state, is viewed by many people as the greatest leader in the history of the United States. With the exception of Jesus Christ, Lincoln is someone who is researched, written about and emulated more than any other person in the history of the world.

For those of us who live in the shadow of Lincoln’s legacy in Illinois, the bicentennial of his birth offers a great opportunity to learn more about the man and to offer to citizens around the world the chance to experience first-hand the impact he has made on history.

I am very honored to serve as co-chair of the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, along with U.S. Senator Richard Durbin and Harold Holzer, a leading authority on Lincoln’s life and legacy. The commission was created in 2000 under legislation sponsored by Senator Durbin and myself and consists of 15 members who are appointed by the President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, as well as an advisory committee of dozens of Lincoln scholars and experts. Its purpose is to create programs, celebrations and commemorations that are national in scope to honor the life of Abraham Lincoln. The commission also has a responsibility to convey to the world what the legacy of Lincoln has become.

Those of us from Illinois are rightly proud of the deep connection that Lincoln has to our state. It is not without merit that we are known as the Land of Lincoln; he came to prominence as a lawyer, legislator and eventually President as an Illinoisan. Over 140 years after his death, more people than ever are traveling to our area to discover Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln, though, also has roots in Kentucky and Indiana. He was born and spent his youth in Kentucky. His teenage years were spent in Indiana. The image of the young Abraham Lincoln reading books by the dim firelight in a cabin was forged in these states. The grand American ideal that anyone, of any means, can one day become President has no greater example than the Lincoln of a simple Kentucky cabin who eventually spent his evenings sleeping in the White House.

All three states of the Lincoln legacy—Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois—along with Washington, D.C., are expected to play central roles in the celebration of Lincoln’s Bicentennial. I am very pleased that the state of Illinois has created a bicentennial commission and I am hopeful this commission will be fully funded by the state so we can properly celebrate Lincoln’s legacy here at home.

On the national level, the bicentennial will actually be a two-year celebration. The official public Bicentennial Commemoration launches February 2008 and closes February 2010, with the climax of the Commemoration taking place on February 12, 2009. There are plans to re-strike the penny in honor of the bicentennial, as well as having a grand celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. There is talk of a movie and many other activities.

I urge everyone to learn more about Abraham Lincoln as we lead up to and through the bicentennial celebration. You can learn more about the national bicentennial efforts through our website, www.LincolnBicentennial.gov, but there is no greater place to experience Lincoln than in our own backyard. There are literally hundreds of Lincoln sites throughout our state, capped by the magnificent Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Visit these sites. Take the time to reflect on the legacy of our favorite son, and relish the fact that we live in a free and democratic nation.

I believe that the bicentennial should not be just a “look back” at Lincoln’s life. This celebration represents a real opportunity for us to promote to the rest of the world the bedrock ideals of our nation: freedom, democracy and equal opportunity for all. IBI

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