On Memorial Day, a Reminder From Gettysburg of What It All Means
It’s just a hair under 300 words, yet it contains volumes.
We’re talking about President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, given to urge unification during the U.S. Civil War. Unfortunately he was not as egalitarian as history would have us believe. But in speaking at Gettysburg, the 16th President of the United States hit upon the notion of sacrifice that soldiers and warriors share, regardless of their cultural origins.
Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who did not come home. Lincoln hit on this squarely 151 years ago with his words. But even before the soldiers of the Civil War, there were the indigenous warriors who consecrated the ground with their blood in their fight to retain their land. Since then, many American Indians have gone on to fight overseas for this land and the country now known as the United States.
Given all that, it behooves us to put down the hot dogs and turn away from the clothing sale racks and give thought to those who have perished so that we might enjoy such simple pleasures. Here is the Gettysburg address in full, delivered on November 19, 1863 in just over two minutes, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
"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 battlefield 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."
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