President Bush dedicated a new presidential museum Tuesday in Abraham Lincoln's adopted hometown and said Lincoln's ideals were a source of inspiration for policies his administration is pursuing.
Bush sought to draw a connection between Lincoln's efforts to expand the concept of freedom by abolishing slavery and America's current efforts to promote democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries with authoritarian histories.
"Our interests are served when former enemies become democratic partners, because free countries do not support terror or seek to conquer their neighbors," Bush said. "Our deepest values are also served when we take part in freedom's advance, when the chains of millions are broken and the captives are set free."
Bush, who has referred to Lincoln as his favorite president, said the opening of the $90 million museum in downtown Springfield was a reminder that the 16th president forced Americans to confront the unresolved conflict between the promise of liberty and the acceptance of slavery.
"None of us can claim his legacy as our own, but all of us can learn from the faith that guided him," Bush said. "Whenever freedom is challenged, the proper response is to go forward with confidence in freedom's power."
Bush's efforts to draw an analogy between Lincoln's ideals and his own beliefs reflect the enormous popularity of the nation's 16th president, who guided the nation through the trauma of the Civil War before being felled by assassin John Wilkes Booth. The Republican Party likes to characterize itself as the "party of Lincoln," and some GOP strategists have cited Lincoln's Homestead Act as a precedent for the Bush administration's "ownership society" agenda.
Bush chose to participate in the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum rather than attend ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Vice President Cheney represented the administration at that event.
The dedication of the museum portion of the state-of-the-art showplace capped 25 years of effort. The $145 million Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, with 40,000 square feet of understated architecture, is designed to generate new interest in Lincoln and explain his life and legacy. The library portion opened last October.
Before the public ceremony, Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., took a 20-minute private tour. With their wives, they were led through a section devoted to Lincoln's life before his presidency and one on his White House years, as well as an exhibit marking the 140th anniversary of his assassination.
The new library also offers details of the controversies surrounding Lincoln's policies. The museum presents his changing views on slavery, restrictions on free speech and the limitations of his Emancipation Proclamation.
Unlike most presidential libraries, this one is not operated by the National Archives and is not the official repository of documents from Lincoln's presidency. The State of Illinois runs the library and museum, and the federal government has agreed to provide up to $50 million.