Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation

Online Site Support Notebook: Major Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Programs

To achieve the goals of the Bicentennial, the Commission has designed a mix of projects and initiatives in four core programmatic categories. These four areas, along with some of the signature programs planned for the Bicentennial, include:

Education Programs

  • Official Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Education Curriculum and Classroom Teaching Guide--A guide for teachers that uses the Bicentennial as an opportunity to take a fresh look at Lincoln, the context in which he lived, his legacy, and the themes that are still relevant today.

  • Teachers' Institutes using a "train the trainer" model to engage teachers across the country.

  • Youth initiatives at the Lincoln sites within the National Park Service, including: expansion of the NPS's "Traveling Trunk" program, development of a Lincoln Bicentennial junior ranger program, and hosting of Civil War encampments in 2009.

  • Establishment of a Lincoln Speakers Bureau and a Writers Bureau.

  • Partnership with Organization of American Historians to further the study of Lincoln.

Public Participation Programs

  • National Traveling Exhibition on Abraham Lincoln organized by the Library of Congress, the largest repository of Lincolniana, and in partnership with the Bicentennial Commission. The exhibit will open in Washington, DC, and will travel to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

  • National Town Hall meetings will provide opportunities for people to come together across the United States to discuss the nation's "unfinished work" with regard to equality, opportunity and race. Partnerships with community organizations, civic groups, and media are being created, and tools to facilitate engagement and dialogue are being developed.

  • Rededication of the Lincoln Memorial. On February 12, 2009, the nation will celebrate the Bicentennial of the birth of its greatest president with music, fireworks, and a presidential address. Simultaneous events at major Lincoln sites and in cities across the country will be planned.

  • State and local commemorations. The Commission will publish a Bicentennial Planning Guide to encourage commemorative activities on the local level.

  • " Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation, a traveling panel exhibition," examines Lincoln's movement toward the eventual abolition of slavery during the Civil War. Produced by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the exhibit will visit more than 60 libraries throughout the country between Fall 2006 and Spring 2010. (A partnership of the American Library Association, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the ALBC.)

Public Awareness Programs

  • Redesign of the Lincoln Penny. Four new tails-side designs on the penny will be issued in 2009, marking Lincoln's birth and early childhood in Kentucky, boyhood in Indiana, adulthood and professional life in Illinois, and his presidency in Washington. A new, permanent tails-side image will be issued in 2010 to reflect "President Lincoln's preservation of the United States of America as a single and united country," according to the authorizing legislation.

  • Minting of a Bicentennial commemorative coin and issuance of commemorative and definitive stamps.

  • Underwriting a major television documentary, focused on Lincoln's legacy, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities. NEH's selection of a filmmaker is set for June 2006.

  • Conducting a major national public awareness campaign highlighting the Bicentennial's themes: freedom, democracy, and equal opportunity.

  • Major Motion Picture. Steven Spielberg has announced his intention to produce a major motion picture based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's best selling book Team of Rivals. Production is expected to begin sometime in 2007.

Legacy Programs

  • Lincoln Sculpture Garden. As a lasting tribute to Lincoln on the occasion of the Bicentennial, the Commission will fund the development of a sculpture garden in Washington, DC, composed of castings of significant Lincoln statuary and newly commissioned works.

  • Commemorative Plaques, specially minted for the Bicentennial, can be purchased by local communities and incorporated into their activities. A planning resource kit will include suggestions on how to build a program around the plaque's installation, such as creating a time capsule or holding an essay contest.

  • Preservation of public sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, the most depicted person in American outdoor sculpture. The ALBC has endorsed a proposal by Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!)--"Saving Abraham Lincoln's Monumental Legacy"--which will conduct a national competition for communities to restore and rededicate Lincoln sculpture in time for the Bicentennial.

  • Translation of Lincoln's writings into foreign languages.


Co-Chairs: U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, U.S. Representative Ray LaHood, Harold Holzer

Commission Members: Dr. Jean T.D. Bandler, Dr. Darrel E. Bigham, Dr. Gabor Boritt, U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, Julie Cellini, Joan Flinspach, Dr. James O. Horton, U.S. Representative Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Lura Lynn Ryan, Louise Taper, Judge Tommy Turner, Chief Justice Frank Williams

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the Bicentennial?

Thursday, February 12, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The Bicentennial Commission has designated the period from February 2008 through February 2010 as the official Bicentennial period. The Bicentennial will be formally launched at the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky, on February 12, 2008.

What is being planned to mark the occasion?

On February 12, 2009, in Washington, DC, the newly inaugurated president will join the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in rededicating the Lincoln Memorial. A joint session of Congress has been mandated States and communities across the nation are being encouraged to mark the day with their own commemorations, and a planning guide is being developed to assist them with their activities. In addition, the ALBC is planning numerous activities for the official Bicentennial period, which begins in February 2008 and ends in February 2010. Among the programs and events being planned include: a redesign of the Lincoln penny in 2009 with four new tails-side images; a series of commemorative and definitive stamps; traveling museum and library exhibits; a new documentary for television and possibly a major motion picture by Steven Spielberg. Americans will have the opportunity to participate in national town hall meetings on equality, opportunity and race. A curriculum is being developed for school children and book lists for readers of all ages are being compiled. In all, over 40 programs are in various stages of planning.

How will kids be included?

It is particularly important that the future generations of Americans understand and appreciate the important contributions Abraham Lincoln made to our nation and the world. Consequently, many of the programs being developed by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission have a special focus on younger audiences. A curriculum guide for use with K-12 students, and teacher training institutes are being developed. Partnerships with youth leadership organizations, the National Park Service, the American Library Association and others are meant to ensure the participation of young people in the Bicentennial celebrations, as well as to plant in their minds the seeds of curiosity about Abraham Lincoln and his legacy.

How can I participate in the Bicentennial?

Numerous events and activities over the next few years will offer plenty of opportunities for you to participate. Some examples include:

  • Encourage your local community to plan events celebrating Abraham Lincoln's life and legacy. Examples include participating in the ALBC's Lincoln Bicentennial Plaque program; organizing one of ALBC's town hall meetings on equality, opportunity, and race in your community; rededicating a local Lincoln statue, or adopting the Bicentennial themes for your Independence Day parade in 2009. Contact the ALBC for ideas and more information.

  • Visit the many Lincoln historic sites and participate in activities being planned, like the National Park Service's junior ranger program.

  • View either the National Traveling Exhibit, which will visit five major U.S. cities beginning in 2009, or the "Forever Free" traveling panel exhibit, which will visit libraries in 63 cities between 2006 and 2011.

  • Collect the four newly redesigned Lincoln pennies, the Lincoln Bicentennial commemorative coin, and the commemorative and definitive stamps as they are issued in 2009.

Why do we need to celebrate this anniversary?

Abraham Lincoln remains the central figure in American history, and generations of Americans have regarded him as our nation's greatest president. When the Civil War plunged the United States into its worst crisis, democratic government--"of the people, by the people, for the people"--was still a uniquely American enterprise. Lincoln's unwavering leadership and commitment to democracy preserved the Union and created a nation "worthy of the saving." Therefore, it is "fitting and proper" that the United States--and indeed, the world--recall this great man and celebrate his legacy.

How does Lincoln still matter?

More than 225 years later, the principles articulated so majestically in the Declaration of Independence endure as the ideal standard of government--both in the United States and abroad. Abraham Lincoln spent his entire professional life expounding on the ideals of freedom, democracy and equal opportunity enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. His steadfast commitment to those principles is what guided Lincoln's tenacious leadership through the Civil War, ensuring that the Union would be preserved.

In a speech in 1858, Lincoln forcefully stated his deep belief in the Declaration:

Wise men as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began--so that truth, and justice, and mercy … might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.

The tenets of American democracy enshrined in the Declaration of Independence remain relevant today--indeed, they are eternal. Lincoln so deeply believed in those principles that he gave his life to ensure that the only nation built on them up to that time would survive its greatest test. Abraham Lincoln remains relevant today because the ideals he loved and fostered remain relevant: freedom, democracy, and equal opportunity.

Why is Lincoln considered America's greatest president?

Various reasons are offered for Lincoln's appeal. His rise from backwoods poverty to professional success and ultimately to the pinnacle of political power, all with little formal education, inspire many to struggle to overcome personal hardship.  Historians and political scientists acclaim him for his steadfast commitment to the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence. When Lincoln assumed the presidency in 1861, the American political system was still a fragile experiment, viewed with distaste and skepticism by many in Europe and beyond. Lincoln knew that government "by the people" would be forever discredited if a disaffected minority, having lost a political battle, could simply withdraw from the process entirely. His faith in democracy allowed him not merely to save the Union but create a nation.

How can I get someone to come to my community to talk about Lincoln?

Dozens of academics and collectors around the country have devoted their lives to studying Lincoln -- his life, his thoughts, his contributions-- and collecting artifacts and documents associated with the 16th president. The ALBC has established a Speakers/Writers Bureau of individuals willing to travel to talk about or write about their favorite subject. To learn more about the Speakers/Writer's Bureau, contact the ALBC office by phone at 202-707-6998 or by email at

How much will it cost to celebrate the Bicentennial? Who's paying for it?

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has been charged by Congress with planning a world-class commemoration of Abraham Lincoln and his legacy. To accomplish this end, the ALBC has set a fundraising goal of $80 million from private donors. An annual appropriation from Congress, totaling $20 million over the life of the Commission, will be used to defray administrative and overhead costs.

Is this a government-funded organization?

In establishing the Commission, Congress authorized the appropriation of funds to help the Commission carry out its mandate. Each year since its establishment, the Commission has received a modest appropriation to defray administrative and overhead costs, and the six-person staff are federal employees. At the same time, however, the Commission recognizes the importance of private sector involvement and has set a fundraising goal from private sources of $80 million.

Who is on the Commission? How did they become commissioners?

The legislation establishing the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (Public Law 106-173) spells out how its 15 members are appointed.  The president appoints five members, including three recommended by the governors of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. The speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader each name three, and the minority leaders of the House and Senate each appoint two.

How long has the Commission existed?

Legislation establishing the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission was signed into law (Public Law 106-173) on February 25, 2000. The 15 members of the Commission met for the first time on July 12, 2001, in Washington, DC. Since that time, they have met three to four times annually, mostly in Washington, and at other venues important to the Lincoln story. Michael F. Bishop, the ALBC's executive director, was appointed in August 2002.

How can I have my idea for commemorating the Bicentennial acknowledged?

To encourage broad public participation in the bicentennial, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission will endorse programs, events, and other activities that embody the bicentennial's message of "freedom, democracy and equal opportunity." When considering endorsement, the applicant must demonstrate to the Commission's satisfaction that the proposed project meets at least one of the bicentennial goals. To be eligible for an endorsement review, please complete the "Application for Endorsement by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission" and fax or email it to the ALBC. The Commission does not provide funding for endorsed projects, but ALBC program staff is available to offer suggestions for possible funding opportunities offered through other agencies, foundations, or organizations with an interest in Lincoln.

How can I learn more about President Lincoln and the Commission's work?

Visit the Web site of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission at: or phone the Commission's office at 202-707-6998.

Timeline of Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Events
Year Date Event


February 25

President Bill Clinton signs legislation creating the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (Public Law 106-173).


July 12

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission convenes for the first time, in Washington, DC. Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois, and historian Harold Holzer of New York are chosen co-chairs.



Michael F. Bishop appointed executive director.


February 9

ALBC's Advisory Committee meets in Washington, DC, for the first time. Day of meetings conclude with a performance of Lincoln Seen and Heard by Harold Holzer, featuring actor Sam Waterston.

July 14

President George W. Bush signs legislation extending the life of the Commission from 2004 through 2010.



Interim Report submitted to Congress, as required.


Strategic plan and mission statement adopted.


February 13

The Lincoln Family Album, by Harold Holzer, and featuring stars Liam Neeson and Holly Hunter, is performed following meetings of the ALBC's Advisory Committee and Governors' Council.


National Endowment for the Humanities announces its selection of a filmmaker for a major Lincoln documentary supported by the ALBC.


Lincoln-themed summer reading lists distributed.


Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation traveling panel exhibit begins extended tour of libraries in 63 cities. The tour is organized by the Huntington Library, the American Library Association and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the ALBC (through October 2011).


Production begins on a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring Liam Neeson as Lincoln. Based on the award-winning book by ALBC Advisory Committee member Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals.
Launch public awareness campaign.
Launch full Bicentennial Web site.
"Forever Free" exhibit continues.


ALBC Advisory Committee meeting.
National Park Service educational initiatives at Lincoln sites begin.

March 6

150th Anniversary of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.


Town Hall meetings on Equality, Opportunity, and Race.
"Forever Free" exhibit continues.
Annual National History Day contest incorporates Lincoln into its theme--The Individual in History--for the 2008-09 academic year.
Lincoln Bicentennial Commemorative Plaques distributed to participating communities
State and local commemorations.

February 12

Bicentennial Kick-Off at the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Kentucky.

November 19

145th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.


Four new penny designs released quarterly.
Commemorative and definitive stamps issued.
"Forever Free" exhibit continues.
State and local commemorations.

February 12

Lincoln Memorial Rededication and Joint Session of Congress.


Traveling exhibit, produced in partnership with the Library of Congress, begins tour of Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.


Traveling exhibit continues.
"Forever Free" exhibit continues.

February 12

Dedication of Lincoln sculpture garden in Washington, DC, and formal closing of the Bicentennial.


"Forever Free" exhibit continues.

(some dates are tentative)