((A Non-Alaskan, Soapbox, Civil War Post))
Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the most famous, and in my opinion the most continuously applicable, speech in American History: The Gettysburg Address. Written and delivered by Abraham Lincoln, it was to fill with a “few appropriate remarks” the a small portion of the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg following the battle earlier in the summer of 1863. After a 2 hour oratory delivered by Edward Everett, Lincoln chose to beseech the audience on what they should ask of themselves so shortly after a devastating battle, and more importantly during a war that would continue for another 2 years. His words were symbolic but direct, and in just a few short minutes embodied what it meant to be true to the American cause while pointing to those who died in battle as the symbols we should follow.
It is a speech I’ve known since listening to people say it at different ceremonies, and still remember the joke from “The Music Man” where the mayor kept saying “Fooourr Sccoooorreee” before getting interrupted. Yet it was when I started getting into the Civil War and visiting Gettysburg that I had a good hard listen to it. As with the way how history can be frustrating, what is most memorable is what is least important to me. If asked to recite a line, most will say like that mayor did in The Music Man: “Four Score and Seven Years ago”. That line, specifically noting the time since the USA’s Independence, was no longer applicable just a short month and a half later, when it was no longer four score and seven, but four score and eight. To give the speech now we should be saying “Eleven score and seventeen”. This is getting picky, but it leads to my greater point.
Besides the opening line, every other section of that speech remains applicable today and has remained applicable every day for the last 150 years. The speech rings with the key elements of our nation’s principles of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It questions whether or not the country is strong enough to test the idea of making “all men equal”. More than anything, it says to look to those who gave their “last full measure” and increase our devotion to those principles they fought for.
The speech was humble, bluntly so. The address even predicts wrongly: “The world will little note or long remember what we say here ..” yet even this blog is noting and remembering what was said there. It says that it’s intent was to dedicate the cemetery, then rebuking that claim — saying that those who died did far more than anyone else there could do to dedicate, concentrate, or long endure. It was a common thread, those who are living can not be the ceremony, they were to realize what the ceremony was about. The speech was quite simply, a call to action; and that is what remains true to today.
While this country no longer fights for slavery, we seem to fight every day for simple principles like liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. Many of us don’t see eye to eye on things our politicians and leaders want from us, we are bound together as Americans under the banner to ensure what our country is founded upon shall continue even if we don’t agree. The world will little note nor long remember what I say in this blog, what is said in Facebook, on Fox News, on the Left-Wing Media, by any list of pundants, politicians, and PACs — but we cannot forget what those brave souls did in Gettysburg, in Normandy, in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. It is for us living to continue their work and ensure that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.
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 this 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.
((End of the Soapbox, now back to your regularly scheduled series of weather reports and dog pictures))