Today is the anniversary of one of the greatest speeches ever given by a United States President. President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is uniquely American in its sentiment and brevity. Few speeches before or since hold the true nature of what it means to be an American.
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.
What was President Lincoln saying here? In more modern terms I believe he was saying that yes, people died here fighting to keep the United States united. But, even though so many died what we cannot do is treat this battlefield as a holy place. We cannot fall into the trap of dwelling upon the dead at the sacrifice of the living and the future of the nation. Instead we should honor those that died by renewing our commitment to liberty and keep this nation alive.
At the Battle of Gettysburg over 150,000 people fought for three days. This resulted in almost 8,000 dead and more than 38,000 wounded, captured, or missing. For a single event it was one of the greatest losses of American life in history.
I think it’s important to look at where we were, compare and contrast that with where we are, and ask the American question of are we more free? Are we still attempting to form a more perfect union? Are we still protecting our liberties for our posterity? Is this still a nation with a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people?