In the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln

On a rainy day in February 1861, hundreds of people gathered at the Great Western Railway depot in Springfield, Illinois,  to bid farewell to Abraham Lincoln, the city’s most famous son, when he boarded a train to Washington to take office as US president.

Almost 146 years later, Springfield witnessed the start of another political journey on Saturday, when Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator for Illinois, launched his bid for the presidency in a rally outside the city’s Old State Capitol building.

While President-elect Lincoln was headed direct to the White House, Mr Obama’s journey promises to be long and winding, with the risk that it could reach a dead end in the Democratic primaries next year.

But the scale of Saturday’s rally – the crowd numbered in the thousands despite sub-freezing temperatures – and the frenzied excitement surrounding the event showed that Mr Obama is already in possession of that most precious of political commodities: momentum.

“I know it’s a little chilly, but I’m fired up,” he told the crowd, moments after arriving at the podium with a U2 anthem, City of Blinding Lights, blaring through speakers.

For the next 20 minutes, he dazzled his audience with the sparkling oratory that has become his trademark, calling for a new generation to reject the “smallness” and cynicism of contemporary US politics and build “a more hopeful America”.

He speaks so well!

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