WASHINGTON (AP) — Invoking hope and history, President-elect Barack Obama rolled into the capital city Saturday night after pledging to help bring the nation "a new Declaration of Independence" 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.
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. He took note of the enormous challenges that lie ahead and promised to act with "fierce urgency," a phrase often used by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Riding a vintage railcar on his whistle-stop trip to Washington, Obama carried with him the hopes of a nation weary of war, frightened of economic chaos and searching for better days. Vice President-elect Joe Biden joined the journey en route, from his home in Delaware, and spoke for many when he said he was excited and ready for Tuesday.
Then, sobered by the challenges of governing, Biden added: "I think it's Wednesday we need to be ready."
Obama was smiling and confident throughout the day and across the miles, reaching at each stop for history's lessons. In Philadelphia, he noted the risks taken by the men who declared America independent from Britain. In Wilmington, he applauded the state that first ratified the Constitution. And in Baltimore, he hailed the troops at Fort McHenry who beat back the British navy and inspired the poem that became "The Star-Spangled Banner."