With a photo of a Civil War battlefield in the background, Steve Pistolessi installs part of the Lincoln Bicentennial exhibit that is to start Thursday and run through May.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP Enlarge
WASHINGTON - The small red Bible used to swear in Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama is to go on rare public display to mark the 200th anniversary of the 16th president's birth.
Beginning Thursday, the national Lincoln Bicentennial exhibit at the Library of Congress, With Malice Toward None, will showcase the Bible, the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, what may be the original Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln's grammar book.
The three-month display is among dozens of events and exhibits in the nation's capital celebrating Lincoln's Feb. 12 birthday.
"He would not have amounted to anything had he not been president. He would have been a good, successful lawyer," said John Sellers, a curator and Lincoln specialist at the congressional library. "But as an icon, an American symbol, it's really his presidency, and the residue of it is here."
Many of the most precious Lincoln artifacts are being shown for the first time in years.
Many of them were last seen together at least 50 years ago.
Beyond Lincoln's famous documents, the library exhibit will feature the contents of the president's pockets the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre: two pairs of glasses, a handkerchief with his name printed in red, a pocketknife, newspaper clippings, and a brown leather wallet with a five-dollar Confederate note.
"You're going to get more of an appreciation, a definition of the man - an understanding of what was really important to him and the meaning of his life," Mr. Sellers said.
The exhibit traces Lincoln's life, starting with his school years, and moves to his legal career and then his political life.
It features his journey from Springfield, Ill., to the White House, including the scrapbook Lincoln compiled with press accounts of his debates with Democrat Stephen Douglas in the U.S. Senate race.
Several documents in the exhibit give insight into Lincoln's approach as commander-in-chief during the Civil War.
One is a highly critical letter Lincoln wrote but never sent to Gen. George Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg.
"He is actually working out his anger," Mr. Sellers said. "He doesn't sign this letter or send it because Meade would have resigned."
The library has two copies of the Gettysburg Address.
One is the "Nicolay Draft" that Lincoln most likely folded, pulled from his pocket, and read from on Nov. 19, 1863, Mr. Sellers said.
But some scholars question whether this was the copy from which Lincoln read.
The library's two copies of Lincoln's most famous speech are rarely exhibited and will be limited to about 45 days on view each, said Cheryl Regan, exhibit director.
After the free exhibit closes in May, it will travel to the California Museum in Sacramento and museums in Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Omaha through 2011.