President-elect Barack Obama, tracing the train route Abraham Lincoln took nearly a century and a half earlier, undertook the final leg of his inaugural journey to the nation's capital Saturday, pledging to reclaim America's spirit but also warning of steep challenges facing the country.
"Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union," he told several hundred people gathered inside a hall at Philadelphia's historic 30th Street train station. "Let's build a government that is responsible to the people and accept our own responsibilities as citizens to hold our government accountable. ... Let's make sure this election is not the end of what we do to change America, but the beginning and the hope for the future."
While talking about the future, Obama reflected on the past, echoing the words of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy. He cited the founding fathers who risked everything with no assurance of success in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776:
"They were willing to put all they were and all they had on the line - their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor - for a set of ideals that continue to light the world: That we are equal. That our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come not from our laws, but from our maker. And that a government of, by, and for the people can endure."
It's a momentous time for the Obamas. And for Michelle Obama, it was also her 45th birthday.
The president-elect's triumphant day - to be heralded by cheering throngs along the 137-mile rail route - was starting in Philadelphia with a sober discussion of the country's future with 41 people he met during his long quest for the White House.
At the outset, he told a crowd gathered in a flag-draped room that the same perseverance and idealism displayed by the nation's founders are needed to tackle the difficulties of today.
"We recognize that such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly," Obama said. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. And we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."
He cited the faltering economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - "one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely" - the threat of global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots but to take up the work that they began," he said. "The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast."
Preparing to board the train, Obama said that "what's required is a new declaration of independence - from ideology and small thinking."
Obama was traveling from Philadelphia to Wilmington, Del., where he was picking up Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and then Baltimore before arriving at Washington's Union Station after nightfall.
The train was also to make "slow rolls" through the towns of Claymont, Del., and Edgewood, Md., so more people could see Obama waving from the back balcony of the rail car. Curious onlookers also were expected to gather on overpasses, parking lots and commuter train stations hoping to get a glimpse of the president-elect.
Obama was to deliver a speech before as many as 100,000 at Baltimore's War Memorial Plaza. Pressing the inaugural theme of service and community, event planners also called for canned food drives in Wilmington and Baltimore to coincide with his stops.
Temperatures were in the single digits in Philadelphia, but the energy in the room warmed the crowd.
"Hello Philadelphia!" Obama shouted to cheers.
Although his path tracked Lincoln's and took on the same overtone of high security, it wasn't the journey of virtual secrecy that the 16th president-elect took so long ago on the eve of the Civil War. Lincoln was smuggled under cover of darkness from one train station to another to avoid a feared assassination attempt.