There are two momentous occasions that are being commemorated this month in the United States. Just a few calendar days from each other, they occurred 100 years apart. The first occasion, yesterday, was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The second commemoration, November 22, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I hope to find time to write about President Kennedy’s assassination in a few days. This morning, however, I felt a need to share President Lincoln’s address.
Many of you, growing up in the United States and of a certain age, know of the Battle of Gettysburg. The devastation that battle wrought. The lives lost on that battlefield. The carnage. Many of you were required to memorize the Gettysburg Address, especially if you lived in Illinois. Less than 300 words in length, it was probably spoken by Abraham Lincoln in less than three minutes. It remains burned in our minds, still, and I hope that students are still learning of it.
It is one of the most memorable speeches by any U.S. President.
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 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 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.
Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. November 19, 1863