Obama calls for new US 'declaration of independence'

18th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The president-elect told his country to draw strength in the face of multiple crises from the small band of patriots who forged US independence in 1776 in Philadelphia.

Philadephia -- Barack Obama exhorted Americans Saturday to unite in a "new declaration of independence" from bigotry, small thinking and ideology, as he set off by train to Washington to take power.

The president-elect told his country to draw strength in the face of multiple crises from the small band of patriots who forged US independence in 1776 in Philadelphia, before he boarded a train which then rolled out towards the US capital.

"The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right," said Obama, who will be sworn in on Tuesday as the 44th US president and the first African-American leader at a time of rare national peril.

"Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast," Obama, 47, told a crowd of around 300 people in a flag-draped waiting room at Philadelphia's 30th Street station.

"An economy that is faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely, a planet that is warming from our unsustainable dependence on oil."

"And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not.

"What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."

"What is required," Obama added, "is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed."

Obama's rhetoric showed his desire to reflect the gravity of the crises he will assume on Tuesday, the need to give himself political room for manoeuvre and a requirement to convince Americans he can lead them to better days ahead.

The president-elect was set to spend all day trundling the 140 miles (225 kilometres) to Washington on a whistle-stop tour, picking up his vice-president-to-be Joseph Biden, in his home state of Delaware, along the way.

The train slowed to a crawl in the town of Claymont, Delaware, and several hundred well-wishers lining the tracks and braving below-freezing temperatures cheered Obama as he waved from the open-air platform of the train's caboose.

The train journey, recalling the 1861 rail trip to Washington and subsequent inauguration of Obama's hero Abraham Lincoln, kicks off four days of inaugural celebrations, bathed in historic echoes.

It was the last stage of a quest for the presidency that took him from the declaration of his candidacy in the snows of early 2007 in Springfield, Illinois -- where, like Lincoln, he served as a state legislator -- across the length and breadth of America and even to Europe and the Middle East.

He was travelling with his wife Michelle, celebrating her 45th birthday Saturday, and their daughters, in a deep blue 1930s-era Pullman car which was a far cry from the jets in which he spent the two years of his campaign.

Earlier Saturday in his last radio and online address before his inauguration, Obama marvelled at the political rite that will take place before a vast crowd and the eyes of the world in front of the domed US Capitol on Tuesday.

"For the forty-third time, we will execute the peaceful transfer of power from one President to the next," Obama said.

"Difficult days are upon us, and even more difficult days lie ahead... there is much work to be done. But now, all Americans hold within our hands the promise of a new beginning."

Obama was set to hold events in the cities of Wilmington, Delaware and Baltimore, Maryland and slow the train at several stations along the way to greet well-wishers before arriving in Washington in the early evening.

The US Department of Justice announced that a man had been arrested Friday in Brookhaven, Mississippi, after having made threats to assassinate Obama on Inauguration Day.

The suspect identified as Steven Joseph Christopher made the threat in a posting on the website www.alien-earth.org on January 11, according to the affidavit filed by the Secret Service.

Stephen Collinson/AFP/Expatica

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