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Clinton Speaks at N.Y. Historical Society Gala

Presidents Clinton and Lincoln were a hot ticket Wednesday night.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Photo By Kyle Ericksen

Presidents Clinton and Lincoln were a hot ticket Wednesday night.

They were the honorees at the New York Historical Society’s 2009 History Makers gala, which raised a record $2 million for the museum and drew an overflow crowd of 600 guests to the organization’s renovated space on Central Park West.

The evening, sponsored by Brooks Brothers, served to introduce the historical society’s major fall exhibition, “Lincoln and New York,” which focuses on his relationship with what was then the largest and wealthiest state.

Brooks Bros. has loaned the museum a replica of the coat Lincoln wore when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, where the original is on display. For the dinner, the retailer also created tablecloths in pin-striped suit fabric and napkins emblazoned with the words “One Country, One Destiny,” the saying embroidered in Lincoln’s coat.

The highlight of the evening was Clinton’s keynote address, which focused on the historical significance of Lincoln’s famed presidential campaign speech at Manhattan’s Cooper Union in the winter of 1860, which argued Congress had the power to contain slavery, and has been credited with propelling Lincoln to the White House.

Clinton said he was amazed that Lincoln wrote each word and researched every part of the 7,700-word speech, which constituted his entire campaign for the presidency. In those days, he noted, it was considered uncouth for a candidate to campaign.

The former president then brought his remarks full circle by drawing parallels between the polarizing issues of slavery and the health care, energy and economic challenges faced by the Obama administration.

Stressing the need to find solutions, Clinton said: “We don’t have the option to fail.”