February 12, 1960, marked the conclusion of one of the most extraordinary tributes to an American leader ever undertaken by the people of this Nation and our neighbors throughout the world.
On that date, 1 year after it began officially, the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Year ended--a 12-month period in which millions of citizens of the United States and of many other nations devoted their intense efforts to honoring the memory of Abraham Lincoln 150 years after the birth of the 16th President of the United States.
In an address to Sangamon County, March 9, 1832, Abraham Lincoln declared: "Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed by my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed." The enthusiastic groundswell of activity on the part of the public media, civic, religious, educational, agricultural, labor, and industry organizations, as well as the Nation's citizens and our neighbors in foreign lands during this Sesquicentennial observance, proves that Mr. Lincoln's "peculiar ambition" has been realized. The wish of the American people, as expressed through their representatives in Congress, to commemorate the anniversary in a fitting and proper manner, signifies that they have not forgotten the virtues exemplified by him, and they intend to perpetuate them in the American way of life.
The Congress resolved that "it is incumbent upon us as a Nation to provide for the proper observance of the birth of this great man."
If a reason for celebrating the life of Abraham Lincoln needs recording, it is this: he was truly a great man. He influenced the course of history. His wisdom and innate faith in his countrymen enabled him, as President of the United States, to lead the Nation safely through the horrors of a civil war and then to "bind up the Nation's wounds" and look toward national unity.
The Commission approached the observance with one basic premise--that there should be participation by all the people in our country, from all walks of life, of all ages, and that the observance should extend beyond our shores to the people of the world. This was based upon the assumption that people needed only to be reminded of the observance and that they would undertake participation through their own initiative. This approach was followed in all aspects of the undertaking and the public turned its attention to Mr. Lincoln and his life with such spontaneity and enthusiasm that one working closely with the Commission soon had the feeling that the name "Lincoln" is still magic in our land, and the principles and ideals for which he stood hold the interest of the people of the world.