Heading toward the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, President Bush on Sunday celebrated the nation's 16th president as a man of steadfast convictions and honorable ideals.

"It's fitting that we honor Abe Lincoln," Bush said in the ornate East Room of the White House. "Of all the successors to George Washington, none had a bigger impact on the presidency and the country."

Bush spoke in early tribute to the 199th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln was born Feb 12, 1809. On Tuesday, first lady Laura Bush will speak at Lincoln's birthplace of Hodgenville, Ky., as part of the opening ceremony of a bicentennial celebration for Lincoln.

Events will be held all year leading toward the 200th anniversary in 2009, and then will continue on through the following year.

Lincoln is revered as the commander in chief who held together the Union during the Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery.

He was assassinated on April 15, 1865, at Ford's Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth. The historic theater annually awards its Lincoln Medal to those who exemplify the legacy and character of Lincoln through their body of work.

This year, Bush presented the medal to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and to Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. The president and the first lady also listened as Lincoln scholars and dramatic performers recounted Lincoln's words and discussed how they resonate today.