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Celebrating Lincoln's birth across the country

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  • Obama says Lincoln "in so many ways made my own story possible"
  • President Obama, Congress salute the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth
  • Library of Congress also opens an exhibit showcasing original items
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From Capitol Hill to Springfield, Illinois, President Obama and Congress paid tribute Thursday to Abraham Lincoln on the bicentennial of his birth.

Barack Obama and his family recently visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Visitors greet an Abraham Lincoln impersonator in Washington on Thursday.

"It is an honor to be here: a place where Lincoln served, was inaugurated, and where the nation he saved bid him a last farewell," Obama said at the Capitol on Thursday.

"As we mark the bicentennial of our 16th president's birth, I cannot claim to know as much about his life and works as many who are also speaking today, but I can say that I feel a special gratitude to this singular figure who in so many ways made my own story possible -- and who in so many ways made America's story possible."

White House officials say Obama's speechwriter had several conversations with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in crafting the speech.

"At a moment when we are far less divided than in Lincoln's day but when we are once again debating the critical issues of our time -- and debating them sometimes fiercely -- let us remember that we are doing so as servants of the same flag, as representatives of the same people and as stakeholders in a common future. 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," Obama said. Video Watch more on the Lincoln celebration taking place »

Obama will also speak later Thursday at an event in Springfield.

Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama -- a Democrat who hails from the Land of Lincoln -- reminded audiences from coast to coast about the similarities between himself and the beloved political leader.

At his presidential acceptance speech in Chicago, Illinois, on November 4, Obama used Lincoln as a guide for his ideology.

"As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, 'We are not enemies but friends. ... Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,' " Obama said. Video Watch a young student read one of Lincoln's speeches »

In Washington, a congressional tribute took place at the Capitol rotunda.

Illinois senior Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, gave the keynote address.

At the end, a wreath was placed at the Capitol.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield also opened its doors Thursday for a special celebration, featuring original documents including the Gettysburg Address. Video Watch CNN's Kyra Phillips take a tour »

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress marks the bicentennial Thursday by opening a special exhibit featuring Lincoln's handwritten speeches and artifacts, including the Bible used last month by Obama during his swearing-in.

"This exhibit, in a little more than 200 items, presents Lincoln, the man and the politician," said John Sellers, curator of the exhibit, which runs through May 9.

Lincoln successfully fought a proposal for legalized slavery as development spread to the Western United States, and he eventually brought an end to slavery throughout the country.

Among the manuscripts on display is a letter he wrote in impassioned defense of his Emancipation Proclamation. Video Watch actor Sam Waterson's reading of Lincoln speeches »

The librarian of Congress, James Billington, acknowledges that the materials are available on the Internet in "digitized" form, but he said "there is something about seeing the original because, after all, Lincoln was a man of words, of rare eloquences."

"His words changed history," Billington said.

The exhibit at the Library of Congress -- on Capitol Hill next to the U.S. Supreme Court -- was in the works for Lincoln's bicentennial long before the presidential campaign in which voters elected Obama.

Billington said the exhibition is all the more profound as visitors explore the links between the anti-slavery Lincoln and the African-American Obama.

There are also grim reminders of Lincoln's assassination. An original "wanted" poster with large black letters reads: "$100,000 Reward. The murderer is still at large."

The poster includes a photograph of John Wilkes Booth, who was on the run after being accused of firing the fatal shots at Ford's Theatre in Washington, where Lincoln was attending a play.


"This is the autopsy report," Sellers noted during the preview. "Those are actual blood stains -- Lincoln's blood."

Other, more lighthearted artifacts are also on display, including an 1860 letter from a girl urging presidential candidate Lincoln to grow a beard to help his prospects with voters.

CNN's Paul Courson, Ed Hornick and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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