SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other state officials joined American Legion officers from across the country Tuesday to lay wreaths at the tomb of Abraham Lincoln and pay homage to the 16th president of the United States on the 210th anniversary of his birth.
It was the American Legion’s 85th annual pilgrimage the iconic monument in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. But it was the first time Pritzker took part in the ceremony as governor, and he used the occasion to invoke Lincoln’s legacy to talk about how he wants to address the challenges facing Illinois today.
“President Lincoln led with an unyielding pursuit of justice that guided our nation through one of the darkest times ever. And that spirit, his spirit, continues to run through this state,” Pritzker said. “I pledge to pay close attention to Lincoln’s legacy of action, and his legacy of compassion, to lead a state guided by the pursuit of justice.”
The ceremony took place in the normally somber and silent burial room where a seven-ton red marble stone marks the spot where Lincoln is buried. Dignitaries and observers crowded into the small room, standing in front of a wall where the bodies of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four children are entombed.
Over the years, though, the annual ceremony marking Lincoln’s birthday has become an occasion for state and local elected leaders to stand with American Legion officers in remembering Illinois’ favorite son.
Most, like Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder, confined their remarks to praising the former president, citing a few of his more memorable quotes, and paying respect to the service of the American Legion and other military veterans.
Pritzker, however, did not shy away from commenting on political issues of today.
“It’s no secret that our state, which Abraham Lincoln once called home, faces some real challenges right now,” he said. “We face a fiscal situation, fed by years of mismanagement that will take years to overcome. Too many of our communities are being left behind. Children in certain ZIP codes are shut out from opportunity before they even have a chance. You can work hard at two or even three jobs and struggle to put food on the table, let alone afford quality health care.”
But just as Lincoln put his faith in “the ultimate justice of the people” – a reference from Lincoln’s first inaugural address – Pritzker said he would put his faith in the people of Illinois.
“I place my faith in the human service providers who worked overtime during our budget crisis to make sure that those they served never felt the impact,” Pritzker said. “I place it in people all across our state who want to come together to build something better.”