Somehow chills always run up and down my spine every time I hear the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln recited. This speech did not receive great attention when given to commemorate all the soldiers who had given there lives during one of the bloodiest battles of the bloodiest war this nation has ever engaged, the American Civil War. But a newspaper man had written the speech down and published it. It was one of the shortest speeches ever given by an American President, consisting of only 3 relatively short paragraphs spoken in less than 5 minutes. However its significance sunk in after its publication and is now considered one of, if not the greatest speeches ever given in this nation. Its brevity encompassed the bear essence of what this great struggle was all about and what the Vision for a better nation was (see Vision for a New Nation). I quote the speech below given on November 19, 1863.
“Fourscore 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.”
Each sentence is packed with great sentiment and deeper meanings ranging from despair to hope. The Civil Wars was devastation for both sides of the conflict and the bloodiest war in terms of loss of life that American has ever experienced. All those who died were born in this nation, many on opposing sides being related by blood. Sometimes cousins fought against cousins and perhaps brother against brother.
In the midst of this carnage Abraham Lincoln was trying to say that there was hope for a better nation and a better future after the war. He was saying that in spite of this great struggle and great loss of life that was occurring in this nation and had occurred on these hallowed grounds there was cause for hope of unity and a second chance at once again realize the Vision of our Founding Fathers. He was saying that all these lives were not lost in vein instead a wake up call “…,that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence), and that their suffering and sacrifices were of equals regardless of stature, belief, or upbringing and “…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.” (Gettysburg Address)
Even Lincoln did not realizes the depth to which he had touched the spirit of this distressed nation: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, …” Children are sometimes taught to memorize this speech over 150 years later.
So in these days where our nation seems so increasingly divided between the haves and have nots there is still cause for hope of a better future for our children whom we hope are far wiser than we. I truly believe that my children are wiser than I at any time in my life. So I have cause for great hope.