The Inaugural Express

  • Updated: January 17, 2009 - 8:51 PM

WASHINGTON

Invoking hope and history, President-elect Barack Obama rolled into the nation's capital Saturday night, pledging to help bring the nation "a new declaration of independence -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry" and promising to rise to the stern challenges of the times. He kicked off a four-day inaugural celebration with a daylong rail trip, retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861.

Obama began his day in Philadelphia, where he said the young nation had faced its "first true test" as a fragile democracy. He ended it in Washington, where his own tests await after his inauguration on Tuesday.

Along the way, including stops in Baltimore and Wilmington, Del., the president-in-waiting drew on a grand heritage of American giants as he appealed "not to our easy instincts but to our better angels," an echo of Lincoln's first inaugural address.

Obama and his family rode in a vintage railcar on the back of a 10-car Amtrak train filled with hundreds of guests, reporters and staffers for the 137-mile ride. Obama and his wife, Michelle, appeared on the back balcony periodically to wave. Vice President-elect Joe Biden joined the journey in Delaware.

Washington pulsed with anticipation of the swearing-in of the nation's first black president. The city was aflutter with preparations for parties and pomp, shadowed by layers of security.

The celebratory air was tempered by the tumult of the times, and Obama was quick to acknowledge them. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments, and we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency," a phrase often used by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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