"I basically don't think former presidents should get awards, because the job itself was honor enough, but I am profoundly honored by this," Clinton said.
The nation's 42nd president was awarded the 2013 Lincoln Leadership Prize. Previous honorees include former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But Clinton is the first U.S. President to receive the award.
"He truly is a person in the great legacy of Abraham Lincoln ," said Governor Pat Quinn.
Quinn and Senator Dick Durbin were among those present at Saturday night's event. But the surprise guest of the evening turned out to be none other than Hillary Clinton.
"The person most responsible for making me president is here. The only American ever to be Secretary of State, a United States Senator and First Lady, so I want to thank Hilary and ask her to stand up," Bill Clinton said.
In his remarks the president spoke at length about the leadership skills that defined Abraham Lincoln, the inevitable comparison to politics today.
"He had one advantage that Obama doesn't have today which is that very few people ever wanted to make a career in Congress," Clinton said.
In typical Clinton style, the former president spoke for nearly twice as long as he was expected to. Not that anyone here seemed to mind.