Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
I've dedicated my last three blogs on this Memorial Day weekend to the men and women who served to preserve our nation. The last of the trilogy also pays homage to a man and a speech that evoked both the dimension of sacrifice as well as the higher cause for the nature of a conflict.
On November 19th, 1863, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train bound for Pennsylvania. He was to take part in honoring those who had given their lives in the green meadows just outside the tiny village of Gettysburg. He would join a throng of thousands who came that day, including the most renown orator in the nation, Edward Everett whose speeches were known all over America as being able to greatly inspire his audiences. They were all there to honor the fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The crowd assembled under cloudy skies and Everett rose to speak as Lincoln sat quietly by. Everett spoke in soaring rhetoric for over two hours. A choir then sang a psalm. As Lincoln rose to speak the crowd fidgeted and tried to resettle themselves following Everett's long oration. Lincoln looked out on the crowd and spoke for two minutes, then sat down amidst a quiet audience, surprised by the brevity of Lincoln's speech. Photographers present had not even had time to load their cameras before Lincoln was finished.
Only one person on the stage made note of Lincoln's address; Edward Everett turned to the President and said "Mr. President, you said more in two minutes than I did in two hours". The rest of those present quietly dispersed, somewhat amazed at the brevity of Lincoln's speech.
However, the next morning, those same citizens opened their morning paper and read the text of Lincoln's speech. Only then did the tears flow, as the audience that day came to realize the beauty and elegant simplicity of their President's words. Within the span of two minutes, and in 273 words, Lincoln had spoken of the glory of our heritage, of the sanctity of our union and reflected on the magnificence of sacrificial blood spilled on a battlefield only four short months before.
The Gettysburg Address is now considered the greatest speech in our nation's history. Proof positive that a prayer or praise need not be long in length if elegant in phrase.
"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."