You were taught the speech in grade school. Perhaps you memorized it. But did you fully comprehend its significance? Probably not.
It was Nov. 19, 1863. The survival of the United States and the end of slavery were at stake. And President Abraham Lincoln faced the task of trying to unify a divided nation while dedicating a cemetery for the Civil War’s unimaginably bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Tens of thousands of people were left dead, wounded or missing over just three days.
He delivered a timeless address that not only helped save the nation, but define it. And he did it in about 270 words.
“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for,” Allen C. Guelzo, a Civil War professor at Gettysburg College, wrote this week in an op-ed for The New York Times. “We could use that reminder again today.”
Our freedoms came at a steep price. What follows is the text of the Gettysburg Address, as inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln’s words are well worth remembering, not just on this 150th anniversary of the speech, but every day.
“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 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 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 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.”