Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address at 150!

Lincoln Memorial

The little speech now known as "The Gettysburg Address" turns 150 years old today. Lincoln said his words would not be long remembered, but when Senator Charles Sumner eulogized the president in 1865, he said "The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech."  (from Abraham Lincoln online).

Like many people, I had to memorize this speech in elementary school. Although I did not fully appreciate it as a fourth grader, many of the words did resonate with me, and I can still remember parts of the speech. Over the weekend, I was at a college football game, and during halftime, the crowd was asked to stand and repeat the Gettysburgh address in unison. What an experience! Lincoln's words are still masterful. This speech was carefully crafted, not scribbled on a train ride as is sometimes reported.

As I repeated the words on Saturday, some things stood out to me:  the fact that Lincoln had no idea that his speech would be famous, and that he coined our famous phraseology that our government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." I couldn't help but think that our government representatives could stand to be reminded that they govern "for the people!"

Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Lincoln at Gettysburg: Words that Remade America," Gary Wills points out that Lincoln's speech has become the accepted interpretation of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, putting forth the idea that America must stand united. He indicates that the idea that Americans needed to be a united people and have a basis of equality has helped shape the country that we are today.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's remarkable words, take a minute today and read the Gettysburg Address.  The text that follows is known as the Bliss Copy of the speech.

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 here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not 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 to 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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Happy Anniversary, Gettysburg Address!

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