Although the address at Gettysburg given by Lincoln in November of 1863 was crafted for the singular purpose of dedicating the cemetery at that battlefield, its reach far exceeds anything he could have envisioned. The words he uttered in such a brief span of time defy the very brevity with which they were spoken, and instead stretch across one hundred and fifty four years of American history up to the present day. They have lost none of their clarity, none of their truth, and the weight behind them has suffered to no degree. On this day – one which we have nationally set aside for remembrance of the men and women who have fallen in the procurement and securing of our liberties – his words echo down to us with a special clarity and significance. Perhaps a more concise and eloquent summary of the necessity for the continued dedication to this great and noble pursuit of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has never been delivered. We would do well to reflect on Lincoln’s timeless speech, and to set ourselves to the task of being “dedicated here to the unfinished work” begun by those who have sacrificed themselves for the cause of freedom.
“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 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 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.”