One hundred and fifty years ago the United States was torn apart by a fearful war and after four devastating years was patched together again as a true nation. This month recalls the one hundred and forty-eighth anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's historic address given on the greatest battlefield of that war.
Four and a half months had passed since the populace of the town of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania became the unwitting hosts of the largest land battle ever fought on the North American continent. The President of the United States and the renowned orator, Edward Everett came on November 19, 1863 to dedicate the cemetery on the site of the great battle. Nearly 15,000 people had gathered to listen to the words of these men and to honor the fallen being buried at the site – the grim work only half complete. Edward Everett would speak eloquently for two hours; Lincoln would speak immortally for only three minutes. President Lincoln was asked to share "a few appropriate remarks." The address expressed magnificently the value as well as the price of liberty:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that a nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate... we cannot consecrate... we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us... that from these honored dead we take increased devotion for that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom... and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Seven score years and eight later, I wonder if any of our politicians would be able to contemplate or to believe the full meaning and consequence of these words. Yet, the hope for our nation, in many ways for the world, depends on the spirit and ideals of Lincoln's message being ever renewed.
At war's end, the healing of the nation would take place much sooner than final freedom for an oppressed race. Political arguments would be rectified, as usual, with reasonable and some dubious compromises. Historian Shelby Foote commented: "the victors acknowledged that the Confederates had fought bravely for a cause they believed was just and the losers agreed it was probably best for all concerned that the Union had been preserved." In spite of its failings, may our government, indeed, never perish from the earth.