April 2016 A to Z Challenge. I’m participating by writing blogs about history.
G is for Gettysburg Address
Perhaps, no other moment in the history of the United States is as touching or as memorable as President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
July 1863 marked the bloodiest battle of the civil war. Union and Confederate soldiers clashed at Gettysburg, marking the end of thousands of lives. 45,000 soldiers were killed, injured, captured, or went missing. It was left to Pennsylvania’s governor to take care of the fallen soldier’s remains. In October, seventeen acres were purchased and the Union soldiers killed in the battle were re-buried in a formal cemetery. Almost as an after-thought, two weeks before the dedication ceremony, President Lincoln was asked to give a speech, setting the cemetery apart as sacred land. This battle was recognized as a major turning point of the war for the north, so I would think the President thought it a fine opportunity to spread a little positive encouragement to a war-weary Union.
November 19, 1863, on the way to the Gettysburg cemetery grounds, President Lincoln told his companions that he felt weak and dizzy. During his speech, it was noted that he looked “a ghastly color.” On the return train trip to Washington D.C., the President became ill with fever and a headache. It was determined later that he suffered from a mild case of small pox. Feeling sick and feverish, I can’t imagine how he sat through a long and most likely boring event, keeping in mind it was a bitterly freezing day in November in Pennsylvania.
The ceremony began with music played by a band, a prayer by a reverend, more music, and a two-hour speech by Edward Everett. It continued with more music, a hymn, a song by the Baltimore Glee Club, and finally… the speech by President Lincoln. It concluded with a song sung by a choir and a benediction.
Lincoln’s short speech has gone down in history. It was met with mixed feelings at the time, but has now become the most articulate version of our vision for democracy. For those of you who don’t do math, the ‘Four score and seven years ago’ is referring to 1776, the beginning of the American Revolution.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.
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 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.